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Those quick walks really can help you live longer

It's good news for people who may not have the time or opportunity to get in organized workouts.
Lamez Williams
For exercise during the business day, Lamez Williams walks the hallways of her Duke Health office in Durham.Shawn Rocco / Duke Health
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Every little bit of exercise you get adds up to a longer, healthier life, researchers reported Thursday.

While the common advice has been to get at least 10 minutes at a time, the new study shows that it doesn’t matter if you get a bit of movement in at even shorter stretches, so long as you get it.

No matter how people got their movement in, those who did move more were less likely to die over the next six to seven years than those who were less active, the team at Duke University found.

“The point is getting enough movement in the day. You can do it in long bouts of lower intensity or shorter bouts of higher intensity,” said Dr. Bill Kraus of the Duke University School of Medicine, who led the study team.

This is good news for people who may not have the time or opportunity to get in organized bouts of exercise, Kraus said. It all adds up.

'I'm not a gym person'

This approach has worked for Lamez Williams.

The 53-year-old administrative specialist at Duke’s health system had struggled with her weight for years, and got very serious about shaping up after she was diagnosed with diabetes.

“I said, ‘Lamez, you can do this,’” she said. She changed her eating habits, cutting out processed sugar and carbs. And she started exercising.

“I am not a gym person. I don’t go to the gym,” she said.

But she looked around herself to see what she could use, and she gets in a little bit of exercise here and there, when she can.

“I walk. I put music in my ear,” she said. “When I get in to work, I do maybe 100 jumping jacks,” she added.

She takes the stairs, up to five flights at a time. “I use the stairs or my desk to do push-ups,” she adds.

People have noticed her around the health system campus, getting in her 15-minute walks.

“What I really like about it, when I am walking, it gives me a chance to think about things that are going on and helps me clear my mind,” she said.

And Williams said she has lost 35 pounds and dropped from a size 18 to a size 10. Best of all, the diabetes went away and she has been able to cut back on her blood pressure medications, also.

10-minute segments

Most guidelines recommend that people get at the very least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise every week, which works out to 30 minutes, five days a week. Or people can opt for 75 minutes of intense exercise at a level that leaves you a little breathless.

The guidelines usually recommend getting these minutes in segments of at least 10 minutes at a time.

Those 10-minute segments were meant to encourage people who don’t go out and exercise all at one go and Kraus’s team wanted to see if periods of even less time — say, walking up a few flights of stairs, or parking at the end of the lot — could add up.

These used data from a big national health survey. Usually these surveys rely on what people tell them, so they are not always accurate. But in the 2003-2006 national survey, people wore accelerometers, which are souped-up devices far more accurate than simple pedometers that count steps.

Out of 4,800 people, 700 died over the next six-and-a-half years.

Those who got more exercise— no matter how long they went at one time — were less likely to have died, the team reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

It's never too late

The biggest benefit appears to have been among people who got three to five times the minimum amount of exercise, or between 7 1/2 hours and 12 1/2 hours of moderate exercise a week. That’s an hour to 1 1/2 hour of moderate exercise every day of the week.

The benefits of exercise are clear: it can help keep the immune system in shape and fight depression. It lowers cancer risk, helps cancer patients feel better and can repair heart disease.

Plus, it's never too late. Even middle-aged couch potatoes can start and reap the benefits.

Kraus said he just tells his patients to do what they can, and he recommends they wear a smart watch or step counter and try to get in 10,000 steps a day.

“We do have these devices that now help us,” he said.

Kraus himself is a runner but said his morning half-hour run is not enough on its own.

“You can’t get 10,000 steps without doing a certain amount of moderate to vigorous activity,” he said.

“I get back from my run in the morning and have 5,000 or 6,000 steps, but that’s not near my goal.”

On average, he has found, people get in about 4,000 steps just doing their day-to-day activities.

Williams said her target is 10,000 steps a day and she uses an Apple watch to try to get there.

“My goal is to get completely off high blood pressure medicine,” she said.

“I want to be here for my son, grandkids whenever I have them. I want to be here and live a long time.”

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