Exercise Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard
It’s also never too late to start, experts say
Elin Ekblom-Bak, a former professional soccer player in Sweden, has three kids at home. She still plays soccer for fun now and then, but between work and family life, getting regular exercise is tough. Yet, as a scientist who studies the effects of physical activity, Ekblom-Bak says it’s important to her that she tries. So for daily exercise, she rides her bike to work at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm.
“It is brilliant in many ways,” she says, noting that it helps her get exercise and it’s good for the environment. She also climbs the stairs rather than taking the elevator, and plays with her kids outside whenever she gets the chance.
Ekblom-Bak is unlike most people in Western societies, who are increasingly sedentary. In the United States, only 20% of adults and adolescents get enough physical activity, according to federal studies and guidelines. Meanwhile, Ekblom-Bak and other researchers are discovering that even just moderate physical activity — such as a brisk walk, dancing, or even gardening — can improve physical and mental well-being and extend lives.
“People think they have to start going to the gym and exercising hard to get fitter,” says Ekblom-Bak. “But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.”
Ekblom-Bak and her colleagues recently found that movement of just about any kind is linked to living longer.
Their study involved 316,137 Swedish people ages 18 to 74 whose fitness was assessed by measuring their maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) while cycling. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen muscles get from the heart and lungs, measured in milliliters per minute per kilogram of body weight. Over time, people’s risk of early death was lower by about 3% for each milliliter increase in VO2 max.
“Benefits of fitness were seen in men and women, in all age groups, and at all fitness levels,” the researchers said while presenting the work in April at the European Society of Cardiology. Importantly, the people with the lowest VO2 max at the start had the most to gain. They experienced close to a 9% of reduced risk of early death per increment of VO2 max increase.