Guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, but an estimated 60% of older Americans fall short. Still, even with a relatively low dose of daily exercise, men and women ages 60 and older were at a 22% lower risk of death over 10 years, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM). The study was observational, however, so although it strongly links exercise to longer life, it can't prove that one causes the other.
People generally exercise to stay healthy, not to keep from dying. But measuring the risk of death from any cause is a handy way of capturing the overall health of people. If fewer die, that suggests more of them are in better health.
The BJSM report combined results from nine studies that tracked over 122,000 people over time. The ones who reached the goal of 150 minutes a week were 28% less likely to die over 10 years, compared with their inactive counterparts. But those who managed only 75 minutes per week—an average of 15 minutes on five days of the week—still enjoyed a 22% lower risk.
This study adds support to the principle that older people should get as much regular exercise as they can manage, even if a chronic health condition like knee arthritis prevents them from scoring an A+ on the national guidelines. "Based on these results," the study authors stated, "we believe that the target for physical activity in the current recommendations might be too high for older adults and may discourage some of them."