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Even Short Workout (15 minutes) Could Extend Life Expectancy
  By Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today Published: August 17, 2011
Working out for just 15 minutes per day may add about three years to your life, researchers said.
Action Points
· Explain that those who exercised for a quarter of an hour daily were estimated to add around three years to their lives and had a 14% reduction in all-cause mortality compared with completely inactive patients.
· Note that for every additional 15 minutes of exercise per day (beyond the first 15 minutes), there was a further reduction in all-cause mortality by 4% and all-cancer mortality by 1%.
In a cohort study of Taiwanese patients, those who exercised for a quarter of an hour daily were estimated to add years to their lives -- 2.55 for men, 3.10 for women -- compared with completely inactive patients, Chi Pang Wen, MD, of the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan, reported online in The Lancet.
"In Taiwan, if inactive individuals engage in low-volume daily exercise, one in six all-cause deaths could be postponed -- mortality reductions of similar magnitude have been estimated for a successful tobacco control program in the general population," they wrote.
Earlier this week, researchers reported that physical inactivity, and watching TV specifically, can take years off life.
Much evidence has shown that at least 150 minutes per week of exercise, about 30 minutes of exercise on most days, can improve health, and 30 minutes a day has become a standard recommendation.
Yet many barriers exist to achieving this level of exercise, so researchers have wondered if there's a minimum dose of exercise that's effective and easy to achieve.
Wen's group conducted a prospective cohort study of 416,175 patients who participated in a standard medical screening program in Taiwan between 1996 and 2008.
The participants were followed for an average of eight years. Exercise habits were assessed by questionnaire.
Wen and colleagues found that patients considered to have a low level of activity -- working out 90 minutes per week or 15 minutes per day -- had a 14% reduced risk of all-cause mortality (95% CI 0.81 to 0.91) and a 10% lower risk of cancer death (95% CI 0.83 to 0.99) compared with those who reported being inactive (P<0.05 for both).
Inactive patients had a 17% increased risk of death compared with patients who had just 15 minutes of exercise per day (95% CI 1.10 to 1.24) and an 11% higher risk of death from cancer (95% CI 1.01 to 1.22).
At age 30, that translated to about a three-year increase in life expectancy compared with inactive patients: 2.55 years for men and 3.10 years for women, they said.
Life expectancy was improved even more for those who met the recommended 30-minutes of daily exercise: 4.21 years for men and 3.67 years for women.
In general, the researchers found that for every additional 15 minutes of exercise per day beyond the minimum 15-minute session, there was a further reduction in all-cause mortality by 4% and all-cancer mortality by 1%. All benefits held even for patients with cardiovascular disease and continued to be significant after controlling for sex, age, or health status.
Wen and colleagues noted that if patients start exercising 15 minutes every day, they may be more likely to increase that amount of time.
"With this potential increase in exercise in mind, a recommendation of 15 minutes of daily exercise should be promoted to East Asian populations," they wrote.
The study was limited because the observed health outcomes can't entirely be attributed to physical activity, the researchers said. It was also limited by its reliance on self-reported data on exercise, and by a potential lack of generalizability.
In an accompanying editorial, Anil Nigam, MD, and Martin Juneau, MD, of Montreal Heart Institute and the University of Montreal, said the study showed the "benefits of physical activity follow a dose-response curve, which clearly shows that although a little amount of physical activity is good, more is better." Still, they said knowing that "as little as 15 minutes per day of exercise on most days of the week can substantially reduce an individual's risk of dying could encourage many more individuals to incorporate a small amount of physical activity into their busy lives."
"Governments and health professionals both have major roles to play to spread this good news story and convince people of the importance of being at least minimally active," they wrote.
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