New research shows a little goes a long way 29



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We all know we should be doing 30 minutes of exercise most days but what if we can’t manage that much – or simply don’t have time?

A new study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is the first we’ve heard of that acknowledges the fact that many over-60s cannot meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week mandated by health authorities, and set out to discover if any regular amount of activity below this level was associated with greater longevity in this age group.

The researchers found that just a little moderate to vigorous physical activity―well below the recommended amount―every week still seems to curb the risk of death, although the more you can squeeze in, the better off you are.

They trawled through research databases that assessed the risk of death according to weekly physical activity for those aged 60 and above and looked at the associated risk of death for four categories of weekly physical activity:  inactive, low, medium, and high.

Physical activity was measured in Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) minutes, which express the amount of energy (calories) expended per minute of physical activity.

One MET minute is equal to the energy equivalent of just sitting, and how many MET minutes an individual clocks up every week depends on the intensity of physical activity s/he does. For example, moderate intensity activity ranges between 3 and 5.9 MET minutes while vigorous intensity activity is classified as 6 or more.

The current recommendation is for a tally of between 500 and 1000 MET minutes every week.

Pooled analysis of the data showed that clocking up less than 500 weekly MET minutes of physical activity was still associated with a 22 per cent lowered risk of death compared with those who were inactive.

The more physical activity an individual engaged in, the greater the health benefit, reaching a 28 per cent lower risk of death for those fulfilling the recommended weekly tally of MET minutes, while more than 1000 MET minutes was associated with a 35 per cent lower risk.

Unsurprisingly, the greatest benefit seemed to be among those who went from doing nothing or only a minimal amount of physical activity to doing more.

Much of the health benefit seemed to be for a reduced risk of dying from heart disease/stroke, while the reduction in deaths from all causes was considerably greater in older women than it was in older men.

The researchers found that a weekly tally of 250 MET minutes, which corresponds to 75 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity―or 15 minutes a day―was associated with health benefits, prompting the researchers to suggest that this could be “a reasonable target dose”.

“Based on these results, we believe that the target for physical activity in the current recommendations might be too high for older adults and may discourage some of them… The fact that any effort will be worthwhile may help convince those 60 per cent of participants over 60 years of age, who do not practise any regular physical activity, to become active.”

Do you think 15 minutes of exercise a day is a more accessible target? Should the recommendations be changed? 

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Walking seems to be the favourite fitness regime near us. Hobbling around with a dog on one side and a walking stick on the other for those like me who are past real fitness tasks and power walking with friends for those more able.

  2. This methodology is heading in the right direction. Figures for moderate and vigorous activity now need to be factored for age. From a purely personal point of view I feel 6 MET minutes is too low for vigorous activity, but then I am only 63.

  3. Exercise is not always an option for some people, I have osteoporosis and have had 4 spinal surgeries 3 of them major so have difficulty walking and I can break ribs through just bending to pick a towel up off the floor also have a 4kg carrying and lifting limit. Luckily I am not overweight but still try doing moderate exercise and a bit of gardening in short spurts.

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  4. I go to prime movers twice a week for an hours exercise . Lots of stretching bit on fun dance movement and have a great time. A lot of the members r in their late 70/80. They r so fit and agile. I am 65 and have a fabulous time and get annoyed if I have to miss a class. I live in WA

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  5. At the moment I’m going to gym at least 3 days a week and doing 30 minutes on bike then 30 minutes on treadmill. On other days i will ride to the river and back which is about 5klm. Trying to get fit for Vietnam holiday with my daughter.

  6. June MacKrill, I think gardening is very underrated as exercise. I believe it is one of the best exercises an older person can do when one thinks of all the different movements associated with it. My cardiologist told me not to give up the gardening because the exercise it gives is so beneficial.

  7. I am 71 & my wife is 69, we walk for at least an hour 5 days a week, got to have a couple of days holiday. Admittedly we do enjoy walking. We do enjoy life enjoying a couple of drinks 5 nights a week.

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  8. You can always find a reason not to but the more active you are the more likely you will maintain your independence and quality of life
    Just depends you and how you would like to live the final years of your existence
    Personally aged care does not appeal to me?

  9. I am over 76 and I do some weight bearing exercises every day, I have a left hip and right knee problem but with exercise including water aerobics lots of stretches and some weight exercises life is okay.

  10. I’m trying to go to the gym twice a week for 90 minutes each day. Walk my dogs on my days off for 20 to 30 minutes. I’ve seen people my age who can hardly walk so I think the saying move it or lose it might have some truth

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