Guidelines tell us we should all be getting 150 minutes of exercise every week, and more if we can. But if that sounds daunting, a new study suggests a number for the amount of exercise that is better than nothing—and it works out to 11 minutes of moderate exercise, like walking, per day.
Where did the 11 minute target come from?
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The study has its caveats. It doesn’t actually tell us that 11 minutes of exercise does something special that 10 minutes does not do. But it hints that we probably get a benefit from hitting just half of the recommended amount of exercise—so 75 minutes per week, or about 11 per day.
The researchers did a meta-analysis of other big studies that each followed a large group of people (10,000 or more) over time. These studies all asked people at the start how much they exercised outside of work, and then followed them for at least three years to count deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and “all-cause mortality” (deaths no matter the cause).
Unsurprisingly, people who got more exercise had fewer deaths and were less likely to have cancer or cardiovascular disease. This agrees with a mountain of existing evidence that exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease and is generally good for you. The researchers estimated that 16% of early deaths could be prevented if everyone (like, literally everyone) would get the recommended 150 minutes/week. But they also calculated that 10% of early deaths would be prevented if everybody got half that level—in other words, the 75 minutes per week, or 11 minutes per day.
The researchers looked at exercise in terms of METs, which measure intensity of exercise, so it’s a bit more complicated than the number of minutes. But the findings match up with the way that existing health guidelines prescribe exercise. (More on that in a minute.) And they only counted exercise that occurs outside of work. There are a lot of factors that can affect how active you are, and a lot of factors that can affect your health, and this study wasn’t able to tease those apart. But we’re still left with results that support what we already know: Even small amounts of exercise seem to be better for your health than none.
So I just need to go on an 11-minute walk?
To be clear, this isn’t a new recommendation for everyone, just an interesting finding from one study. The old advice still holds: Any exercise is better than none, and more is generally better.
But let’s break down the numbers. The standard recommendation is 150 minutes per week (or about 21 per day) of “moderate” exercise like going for a walk or an easy bike ride. Your minutes count double if you’re doing “vigorous” exercise like running, playing basketball, or taking an intense fitness class, so you only need 75 minutes of those (or any equivalent combination—say 100 minutes moderate and 25 minutes vigorous). If you can hit this benchmark easily, the guidelines say you might as well aim for double: 300 minutes moderate, 150 minutes vigorous, or a combination.
The 11-minute idea is based on the idea that half the standard level will still show plenty of benefit. So 75 minutes of moderate exercise may not be as good as 150, but it’s a hell of a lot better than zero.
And if you’re not much of a walker or a runner? We have a long list of activities here that fall in the “moderate” zone. Playing frisbee, tending a garden, and salsa dancing all fall in this range.