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11 minutes of daily walking reduces risk of disease, early death, researchers find

Just a bit makes a big difference for your health. A separate study finds exercise improves symptoms of depression and anxiety better than medications.
/ Source: TODAY

Got 11 minutes? That modest amount of daily pulse-raising exercise is enough to reduce the risk of premature death and various diseases, a new review of studies has found.

It adds up to about 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, dancing, riding a bike, playing tennis or hiking — anything that makes the heart beat faster but isn’t so intense that it leaves a person breathless.

One in 10 premature deaths could be prevented if everyone met this goal, researchers reported Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It was enough to reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 17% and cancer by 7%, and came with a 23% lower risk of premature death.

The findings are based on a review and meta-analysis of 196 studies covering more than 30 million participants.

Just a bit makes a big difference for your health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies advise getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, which seems to produce the maximum health benefits, according to the paper.

But even half that recommended amount makes an “appreciable” difference, as the new study shows, and people who are sedentary would benefit the most from moving a little bit more, the authors write.

That’s good news for those who find the idea of working out 150 minutes a week daunting, says Søren Brage, Ph.D., co-author of the paper and head of the Physical Activity Epidemiology group at the University of Cambridge. Some exercise is better than none, he notes.

“Our results are encouraging for those who currently do very little activity; it really makes a big difference to your health if you manage to do just a little bit, so we hope that would motivate more people to move,” Brage tells

“Physical activity encompasses not just sweating it out in the gym. It is broader than that and includes also walking or cycling to work … just getting up and using the big muscles in the legs, moving to stimulate the metabolism — it is how we are designed, and if we do not use our muscles, they waste away.”

It’s still great to go to the gym or go for a hard run, but that’s not to everybody’s taste or capability, while moderate activity like walking is safe for everyone, Brage notes.

If people find 75 minutes a week is manageable, they could gradually raise it to the full recommended amount of 150 minutes, he says. The paper didn’t address whether it was better to spread the exercise out over seven days or do fewer, longer workouts a week.

Exercise for a mental health boost

That exercise routine is also a prescription for better mental health.

Physical activity is “highly beneficial” for improving symptoms of depression and anxiety in adults — more effective than counseling or medications, a separate, new review of studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found.

“Importantly, the research shows that it doesn’t take much for exercise to make a positive change to your mental health,” Ben Singh, Ph.D., the lead author and a research fellow at the University of South Australia, said in a statement.

“Yet despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment," he added.

All types of physical activity were beneficial, including walking, resistance training, Pilates and yoga. But bursts of higher intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, perhaps because that stimulates the neurological and hormonal changes linked with larger mood improvements, the paper noted.

Exercise programs that lasted three months or shorter had the most effect, perhaps because people stop following longer regimens, the authors wrote.

They were also surprised that smaller, weekly doses of exercise had a bigger impact on improving mental health than bigger doses — though no specific number of minutes per week was recommended in the review. It may be that longer workouts are “more burdensome,” which in turn impacts the psychological benefits, the authors wrote.

The findings are based on 97 reviews encompassing more than 1,000 trials and 128,000 participants.

Exercise could have a beneficial effect on mental health through the release of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neural science at New York University, previously told

“I think exercise is an excellent tool to use for anxiety,” said Suzuki, who was not involved in the new research.

"Moving your body, including increasing regular walking, is an easily accessible and powerful tool to use.”