Study That Claims 15 Minutes of Exercise a Day Will Help Longevity Raises More Questions Than It Answers

The breaking news this week is the study led by researchers at the National Health Organization that concludes that exercising less than the amount recommended by the World Health Organization – 30 minutes at least five days a week – will help reduce the risk of a variety of diseases and increase longevity.

The research project studied approximately 416,000 Taiwanese adults over eight years
.  The individuals were put into one of five groups ranging from physically inactive to high activity.  The results of the study found that just 15 minutes a day cut the risk of premature death by 14%. Overall, this minimal amount of activity increased life expectancy by three years compared to non-exercisers.

Wow!  Good news?  Yes and no.

For people really struggling with incorporating physical activity into their day this might help them realize that a little bit is better than none at all and encourage them to be active 15 minutes a day.

I hope the study won’t convince people that are exercising at the level recommended by the WHO that it’s okay to scale back their activity to 15 minutes a day.

The articles I’ve read about the study leave a lot of unanswered questions:

  • Did 15 minutes a day have any impact on weight loss or weight maintenance?
  • Did the minimal amount of exercise help increase bone density?
  • Did the exercise increase muscle strength?
  • Was an individual’s BMI (basal metabolic index) affected?
  • Will people be motivated to exercise 15 minutes a day in hopes of increasing their life expectancy by three years even if none of the above is impacted?

This study contradicts the recent study that concluded if you have a desk job no amount of vigorous exercise can undo the damage caused by the sitting.  Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., recently made headlines with this claim and calls the folks that do serious workouts then sit at a desk all day “exercising couch potatoes.”

So, here’s my question:  If I work out for an hour and a half every morning then go to my job at the office am I no better off than the person that doesn’t log any time in the gym? and . . .  If I’m completely sedentary and start exercising 15 minutes a day am I’m just as well off as the ‘exercising couch potato’?

If the NHO study provides the support needed to get a sedentary person moving 15 minutes a day that’s a win-win.  That doesn’t mean we lower the bar and decide that’s good enough for the rest of us. This is a case when less isn’t more.  More exercise is better for us whether we are sitters or non-sitters.  Let’s keep the standard thirty minutes five days a week the absolute minimum.

And for the exercising couch potatoes out there, break up the sitting by standing while talking on the phone, organizing walking meetings and schedule a break every hour to stand and stretch.  And never underestimate the benefits of  solid cardio and strength workouts five times a week even if you’re a cube dweller.