Living

What’s the minimum exercise requirement for optimal health?

Exercise — it’s clearly an activity that only improves our experience of life. It keeps us strong and flexible, happier and less prone to depression and anxiety. But how much exercise and of what kind is necessary to maintain our health over the long term?

Masterfile

Exercise — it’s clearly an activity that improves the experience of life. It keeps us strong and flexible, younger, happier and less prone to depression and anxiety. But how much exercise is necessary to maintain health?

A lot less than you might imagine, according to a new book by New York Times’ health writer Gretchen Reynolds (via NY Times). In her book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, Reynolds shares the knowledge she’s gleaned over the years as a health and fitness reporter.

One of her more enlightening claims is that aside from athletes who exercise to improve their performance, regular human beings need only stay active to maintain health. They don’t need gym memberships, or to sign up for 10Ks (not unless they want to, of course), or Ironmans to maintain health. They really just need to keep their bodies in motion by walking around, gardening, cleaning, etc — and perhaps for as little as 20 minutes a day. 

“The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active,” Reynolds said in an interview with NY Times Well’ blog writer Tara Parker-Pope

Reynold’s isn’t suggesting that people aim to meet the minimum requirement only, but she is offering those who are sedentary a reasonable goal that is linked to longevity and health. Moreover, Reynolds’ book encourages people who have traditionally associated exercise with weight loss only, to reassess exercise as a way of improving quality of life. 

Said Reynolds, “I think a lot of people look to exercise to help them lose weight, and when they don’t lose weight immediately with exercise, they quit. They return to the couch, and they basically never move again. What is lost in that is that fitness is almost certainly more important than fatness.” 

 To read the rest of the interview, visit the Well’ blog here.