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Every Minute of Movement Counts

New study shows that brief increments of exercise can boost overall health

People blurred as the walk in a city

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Even just taking short, quick walks during your workday can help reduce your risk of disease and death, according to a new study.

Just move: It's a message that longevity researchers have been preaching for years. But a new study suggests that every minute of exercise counts, even it it is one minute at a time. 

Walk the halls, march in place or use the stairs — it's simply important to move to help reduce your risk of disease and death, concludes the study published recently in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute tracked 4,840 people ages 40 and older (average age 55) over seven years to test the validity of long-held guidelines for physical activity in the U.S. — 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week for adults, in increments of 10 minutes or more.

The first result of their research was expected. The more activity, the lower the risk for mortality. But the second discovery was more notable, says Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, a cancer epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute and one of the study authors. “If you get to your daily target [of 30 minutes] for the day, it doesn’t matter how you get there,” he notes. “The key message is every minute counts.”

Saint-Maurice says confusion about the guidelines' required 10-minute increments came from equating improved fitness levels to improved health. “We have learned along the way that you can get health benefits, but you don’t have to improve fitness,” he says.

It's good news for those who are inactive or who can't sustain a full 10-minute interval. Shorter spurts of exercise can add up to the recommended 30 minutes, five or more days a week. “Moderate intensity is usually a brisk walk,” explains Saint-Maurice. But you can also accomplish this through an “activity like marching in place, any short walk to do errands or using the stairs instead of the elevator.”

Saint-Maurice is optimistic that the study will have a “high impact” on future changes to the federal physical-activity guidelines and for the way physicians advise their patients to approach exercise. But for now, his advice: “Take every minute you can to be active.”

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