Older men may face premature death if they spend most of the day sitting around, but it doesn't require a huge amount of exercise to increase their chances of living longer, a study in the UK suggests.
Researchers asked 1,655 men, all between 71 and 92 years old, to wear accelerometers for one week. The goal was to assess their activity levels.
Among a subset of 1,274 men without cardiovascular disease or heart failure who wore the accelerometers as directed, participants logged a daily average of 616 minutes of sedentary time, 199 minutes of light activity and 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise.
After following the men for up to six years, there were 194 deaths.
For each additional 30 minutes of sedentary time on a typical day, men were 17 percent more likely to die during the study, researchers report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Every extra half hour of light activity, however, was associated with 17 percent lower odds of death.
"For those who are able, it remains a good idea to aim for at least 150 minutes each week of moderate or more intense activity, that is, activities that get the heart beating faster," said lead study author Barbara Jefferis of University College London.
"Our results suggest that whilst moderate or more intense activity is best, for older men who are unable to achieve the target, doing even light physical activity is worthwhile for extending the lifespan," Jefferis said by email.
Not surprisingly, researchers also found that men were about 40 percent less likely to die during the study when they got the minimum recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week, compared to men who didn't achieve that amount.
Long or short bursts
And the benefit was similar whether men got this total amount of exercise in brief, sporadic bouts of less than 10 minutes at a time or they exercised in longer bouts of at least 10 minutes or more.
"We found that as long as men accumulated 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, it didn't matter whether it was in long or short bursts," Jefferis said.
"This is encouraging for older adults, as it is easier for them to reach the target without worrying about sustaining activity in bouts."
While 66 percent of the men managed to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise in short bursts, just 16 percent achieved this in bouts of 10 minutes or longer, the study found.
The study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how the amount or duration of exercise men get might directly impact longevity.
Another limitation is that accelerometers used in the study didn't distinguish between standing time and sitting, which might have different health effects, researchers note. Men who followed through with wearing the devices also tended to be younger and healthier than men who didn't.
Still, the results add to evidence that any exercise is better than none, even if more intense activity is better, said Keith Diaz, a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City who wasn't involved in the study.
"So, whether one walks for 1 minute at a time or 10 minutes at a time, any duration of activity at a time is healthful," Diaz said by email.
"Regular exercise can lower blood pressure, blood sugar levels, body weight, triglycerides, and unhealthy LDL cholesterol; all of which can improve your heart's health and, in turn, longevity," Diaz added. "Exercise can also help memory and thinking by stimulating the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels in the brain."