Here's a tidbit that will inspire you to put on your sneakers and hit the gym: Sedentary individuals who increase their physical activity by just 15 minutes per day may be able to up their life expectancy by three years and reduce their risk of death by 14 percent, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet.
Although the World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity a week to stay fit, the study - conducted by researchers at the Taiwan Department of Health, the Clinical Trial and Research Center of Excellence as well as the National Health Research Institutes - found that smaller bursts of exercise can have a number of health benefits.
Researchers collected data on how much exercise was undertaken over an eight-year period by more than 400,000 people in Taiwan. Researchers categorized participants as "inactive" ranging to "very high" based on their level of physical activity so they could directly compare health benefits and exercise levels.
The results indicated that even a little exercise can go a long way. Individuals who were active for an average of 92 minutes per week - approximately 15 minutes a day - had a reduced risk of mortality as well as a 10 percent reduced risk for cancer compared with the inactive group. Every additional 15 minutes of exercise beyond that reduced the risk of death by 4 percent and lowered the risk for cancer by 1 percent.
"These benefits were applicable to all age groups and both sexes, and to those with cardiovascular disease risks," wrote the researchers. "Individuals who were inactive had a 17% increased risk of mortality compared with individuals in the low-volume group."
The study authors went on to say that if the minimum exercise requirement of 15 minutes a day is adhered to, one in six deaths in Taiwan could be postponed, about the same mortality reductions that experts believe could occur if the general population stopped smoking cigarettes.
"This low volume of physical activity could play a central part in the global war against non-communicable diseases, reducing medical costs and health disparities," the authors wrote.
In many western countries, physical activity often takes a nosedive during adulthood, according to researchers. In addition, in this day and age, a sizable number of people in chronically inactive populations work office jobs that have them hunched over a desk for at least eight hours a day.
About 35 percent of U.S. adults exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Still, one-third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children and teens are obese, which can increase the risk for diabetes, cancer, stroke and other illnesses.