When it comes to health longevity, the secret is to keep it moving.
When it comes to health longevity, the secret is to keep it moving.
Image: 123RF / Ammentorp

The motivation to exercise is personal and varied. Aesthetically, some people want to lose fat or gain muscle, either all over or in particular “problem areas”, and for function, some people are trying to become fitter, stronger or faster.

The most important motivation to exercise — though we’d never be the judge because if you exercise properly, this will be a side effect anyway — is to become and stay healthy. In other words, live a longer life.

We’ve been told for years to exercise for 30 minutes a day, for five or more days a week, and voila, longevity.

The author of this column interviewed Gary Player eight years ago for Business Day and managed to throw in a question about exercise. He attributed his longevity and health to the fact that he ate well and exercised daily — the exercise he referred to was thousands of sit-ups, swimming, and the types of things we have all become accustomed to while exercising at home during the pandemic.

However, it turns out — unsurprisingly — that his day job has had more to do with his physical longevity. As does yours. But, as with everything exercise-related, there is a magic potion to fix it.

A recent study, by a team at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Centre, has found the exact “cocktail” of exercise one needs to enjoy the longevity benefits of exercise, and live longer.

Wearable technology, where we measure our activity such as steps taken, has finally given researchers the hard data they need to calculate the exact ratio of exercise needed to see tangible health benefits.

Science Daily quotes one of the study contributors, Keith Diaz, PhD, assistant professor of behavioural medicine and director of the exercise testing laboratory at the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Reading his title twice is about as taxing as two rounds of high-intensity interval training!

He is quoted as saying: “For decades, we’ve been telling people that the way to stay healthy is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. But even if you’re one of the few adults who can stick to this advice, 30 minutes represents just 2% of your entire day. Is it really possible that our activity habits for just 2% of the day is all that matters when it comes to health?”

The study conducted a compositional analysis of 130,000 adults from the US, UK and Sweden, to determine what combination, and volume, of exercise ranging from light to vigorous, is required to live longer?

They found that the formal exercise you do every day means little over the long term if you spend the rest of your day sitting, or in exercise terminology, sedentary. The 30 minute-a-day recommendation had a positive effect on mortality only if the participants didn’t spend the rest of the day doing nothing with their bodies.

The golden nugget to emerge from the study is what they authors call the “cocktail”. They say that if you apply this “cocktail” to your exercise regime, you can do whichever type of exercise you like.

The cocktail formula they recommend is 3:1. Science Daily writes: “The researchers found that three minutes of moderate to vigorous activity or 12 minutes of light activity per hour of sitting was optimal for improving health and reducing the risk of early death.”

They say that by using this ratio, the risk of early death is reduced by 30%.

According to findings reported, if you do 55 minutes of exercise every morning or evening, you’d need to include four hours of light physical activity and then you’d be able to sit for 11 hours. If you only have time for three minutes of intense exercise, that’s fine, it’s just that you’d then need six hours of light physical activity, which in turn allows for 9.7 hours of sitting.

Calculating this is just silly. It would give us all an excuse to spend more time on the spreadsheet and less time on the treadmill.

Exercise every day, and when you are not exercising, be cognisant of moving around as much as possible: walk the dog, do the garden, wash the dishes, dust the windows, play with children, take the stairs, or just go for a two minute walk every time you stand up from the computer.

The real secret potion, or magical cocktail, is to keep moving.

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