If you can’t figure out how to fit a whole workout into your busy schedule, you’re in luck.
A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that just 11 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every day can lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Aerobic activities include exercises such as brisk walking, running, playing tennis, cycling, dancing and hiking, and intensity levels can be measured by heart rate and how hard you’re breathing.
Moderate intensity can be signaled by being able to talk but not sing, while vigorous intensity would make it so you can’t carry a conversation.
The study authors reaffirmed the World Health Organization’s stance that doing just some physical activity every day is better than doing none — even if it’s not the total recommended amount of exercise.
“One in 10 premature deaths could have been prevented if everyone achieved even half the recommended level of physical activity,” the authors wrote, adding that “10.9% and 5.2% of all incident cases of … cardiovascular disease and cancer would have been prevented.”
Scientists from the UK’s University of Cambridge gathered data from 196 studies that looked at more than 30 million adult participants over an average of 10 years.
The researchers wanted to see how risk levels for premature death and chronic disease were affected by the amount of exercise a person gets in a day.
Participants who had done a minimum of 150 minutes of weekly exercise (22 minutes per day), which is recommended by the National Health Service, were the main focus of the study.
Outside of work-related physical activity, 2 out of 3 people participated in moderate-intensity physical activities for less than 150 minutes per week, while fewer than 1 in 10 reported being active for more than 300 minutes per week.
Results found that those who did the minimum recommended amount of moderate to vigorous exercise every week had a 31% lower risk of dying from any cause, 29% lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and a 15% lower risk of dying from cancer, compared to those who are inactive. Those participants were also 27% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and 12% less likely to develop cancer.
When they looked at participants who cut the minimum recommended time in half, the scientists saw that 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week — 11 minutes per day — resulted in a 23% lower risk of premature death. It also reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 17% and cancer by 7%.
“We know that physical activity, such as walking or cycling, is good for you, especially if you feel it raises your heart rate. But what we’ve found is there are substantial benefits to heart health and reducing your risk of cancer even if you can only manage 10 minutes every day,” Professor James Woodcock, of Cambridge’s MRC Epidemiology Unit, said in a statement.
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally. In 2019, 17.9 million people died of them. Cancers were the cause of 9.6 million deaths globally in 2017.
Anything more than the recommended 150 minutes per week only had smaller additional benefits.
“If you are someone who finds the idea of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week a bit daunting, then our findings should be good news,” said study author Søren Brage, a leader of the Physical Activity Epidemiology group at the MRC.
“This is also a good starting position — if you find that 75 minutes a week is manageable, then you could try stepping it up gradually to the full recommended amount,” Brage added.
Leandro Garcia from Queen’s University Belfast said that moderate activity doesn’t necessarily mean typical exercises such as running or sports.
“Sometimes, replacing some habits is all that is needed. For example, try to walk or cycle to your work or study place instead of using a car, or engage in active play with your kids or grandkids,” Garcia said. “Doing activities that you enjoy and that are easy to include in your weekly routine is an excellent way to become more active.”