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A little exercise can give big benefits

Published: 11th August 2014

Moderate exercise, such as walking, could extend life by two years

INACTIVE people can lengthen their life with just a small amount of weekly exercise, research suggests.

Less than an hour a week of moderate exercise, such as walking or gardening, could extend previously inactive people’s life by more than two years.

Research data was recorded 30 years ago to take a snapshot of health and exercise of more than 9,000 people across the UK. Participants were then followed up in 2009 to establish their cause of death, if they had passed away.

MMU's health economists analysed this information against their medical records to draw correlations between lifestyle and lifespan, with researchers discovering large benefits from small amounts of exercise.

Small steps, big benefits

The team's data investigations suggest there is plenty of benefits to be gained from exercise - even if you do not reach the government minimum recommendation of 2.5 hours a week of moderate exercise.

Dr Matthew Gobey, senior economics lecturer, said: “The national data shows that you don’t have to do 2.5 hours of moderate exercise to feel the benefits – you can go for a walk a couple of times a week and it’ll add years to your life.

“It could even be gardening or pilates what someone has used to increase their activity from a sedentary lifestyle, even if you can’t meet the national recommendation. Of course meeting the recommendations will, on average, mean that add many more years. 

“At the moment, only 6% of men and 4% of women meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance on physical activity, as opposed to what people report they do. So small exercises like this could have a big effect.”

Cost effective

The project was launched to evaluate the effectiveness of the Manchester Public Health Active Lifestyles programme, which has helped 3,000 residents become more active. The service was valued by MMU researchers to show the cost effectiveness of the health intervention scheme.

MMU's researchers demonstrated that more than 8,000 years have been added to participants’ lives in Manchester, at a cost of £350-400 per person each year.

Dr Gobey helped graduate Gemma Kay develop the report as part of her final-year project.