You want your mom to live a long, healthy life, and more and more information indicates that regular exercise is fundamental to successful aging. If’s she’s not the marathon-running type, your mom may be pleased to know that getting just a little bit of exercise—the equivalent of a daily brisk 20 minute walk—delivers huge benefits compared to remaining sedentary. Although being even more active would be even better, a recent large European study found that the biggest gains were made when people advanced from the “sedentary” to the “moderately inactive” categories.
This study followed more than 334,000 European men and women for more than 12 years. It also found that lack of any kind of exercise is lethal; it may be responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity. Exercise is crucial for heart health and bone density. It raises your energy levels and slows down muscle atrophy and the advance of frailty that too often accompanies aging. And if you lose a few unwanted pounds, so much the better, although exercise mitigates the adverse effects of being overweight too.
The benefits of getting small amounts of exercise versus none at all were also highlighted by an Asian study which found that exercising just 15 minutes a day was associated with a 14% reduction in all-cause mortality and having a 3-year longer life expectancy. The Asian researchers also found that more exercise would be even better. In fact, every additional 15 min of daily exercise over and above the first 15 further reduced all-cause mortality by 4%.
So if your mom has drifted into a sedentary lifestyle, why not get her back into the habit of enjoying movement by taking her dancing on Mother’s Day? Or any other activity that’s fun and not too strenuous, but gives her an opportunity to move her body in an enjoyable way.
If she gets inspired, there are a number of things she can do to become “moderately inactive.” According to the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, here are a few ways to get the required 20 minutes of daily exercise (which also burns about 100 calories a day): walking briskly, gardening, lawn mowing with a power mower, playing tennis doubles, raking leaves, roller-skating, shooting baskets, and washing and waxing a large car. Pushing a vacuum would probably also qualify, as would free-dancing in your living room to songs on the radio or iTunes. We recommend bouncing gently on a rebounder—a perfect way to exercise every single cell in the body simultaneously.
Once she gets going, your mom may be motivated to look into the somewhat more inclusive government guidelines for exercise.
She might even decide to go all out and become so “highly fit” that, like the senior recreational cyclists aged 55-79 who became the subjects of a recent British study, most of her health markers would become indistinguishable from young adults!
- Ekelund U. Physical activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published ahead of print January 14, 2015 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.100065.
- Wen CP. Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. Lancet. October 2011;378(9798):1244-1253.
- Tufts University. Activity benefits go beyond weight loss. Health & Nutrition Letter. April 2015;33(2):1, 3.
- Pollock RD. An investigation into the relationship between age and physiological function in highly active older adults. The Journal of Physiology. February 2015;593(3):657-680.