Just 10 Minutes of Exercise a Week May Be Enough to Extend Your Life, Study Says

3 minute read

Exercising for just 10 minutes a week is linked to a longer life, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Several recent studies have found that even low-intensity exercise, done for a short amount of time, can have a meaningful impact on health. Still, the idea that exercising for 10 minutes a week — less time than it takes to watch a TV show, do a load of laundry or make a pot of pasta — may be enough to increase your lifespan is novel. It’s also somewhat controversial, since the federal physical activity guidelines recommend getting at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week.

“Any dose of physical activity will be beneficial to human health,” study co-author Bo Xi, a professor and epidemiologist at the Shandong University School of Public Health in China, wrote in an email to TIME.

The study was based on data from more than 88,000 U.S. adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2008. All of the participants were ages 40 to 85 and did not have any chronic diseases when they took the survey. They also provided demographic and health information, and were tracked by researchers for about nine years.

About 8,000 people died during the follow-up period, and the researchers found that virtually any amount of exercise reduced the risks of dying of cardiovascular disease, cancer or any other cause. These reductions in risk increased the more people exercised. Exercise has long been shown to improve cardiovascular health, and physical activity can help prevent obesity, which is linked to cancer.

What was interesting was how little physical activity it took to see benefits. People who got just 10 to 59 minutes of light-to-moderate intensity physical activity during their free time each week had an 18% lower risk of early death than people who were sedentary. They also had a 12% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular issues during the study and a 14% lower risk of dying from cancer, the data showed.

After that, the benefits accumulated. People who got 60 to 149 minutes of light-to-moderate exercise per week had a 22% lower risk of early death than sedentary people, and those who got 150 to 299 minutes had a 31% reduced risk. Getting 300 to 449 minutes of light-to-moderate physical activity per week was linked to a 33% lower risk of dying during the study period.

Contrary to some research that has found an upper limit to the amount of exercise that is healthy, the researchers found that there was seemingly no limit to the longevity benefits of exercise. Even the small group of people who got 10 times the amount of exercise recommended by the federal government — 1,500 minutes of exercise a week, or more than three hours a day — had a 46% lower risk of death than the least active group, the researchers found.

Still, observational studies like this one cannot prove cause and effect; they can only find patterns. The researchers also were not able to adjust for certain lifestyle factors that could affect mortality risk, including dietary habits and changes in physical activity over time. Despite these limitations, the study’s results are yet another endorsement of the power of physical activity, even in small amounts.

“To meet the minimum recommendations of the physical activity guidelines may be difficult,” Xi says, “but even low doses of physical activity will be useful, and more will be better.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com