In an era of slow fitness, it probably comes as little surprise that we don't need to exercise nearly as much as previously thought in the name of longevity. In a large new study published on this topic, researchers concluded from studying exercise habits of 130,000 people that just 150 minutes of exercise per week can help you live longer.
Just to break that down for you, that's 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week. And you don't have to spend those minutes logging seven-minute miles on the treadmill, either: In this case, exercise includes walking and even cleaning your house.
In a world where the only exercise required of you is doing the dishes and cleaning your bathtub, is it still worth it to attend your weekly 6 a.m. spin class and hit the yoga studio after a stressful day at work? Lead study author Scott Lear doesn't think so. "I would dispel the notion of having to put out money to be active," he says. "Our findings indicate that non-recreational activity—work, housework, active transportation—is just as beneficial in reducing the risk for premature death and heart disease."
But before you cancel your monthly yoga membership and throw away your running shoes, we chatted with two mental health experts who believe that if you want to reap the mental benefits of regular exercise, your workout shouldn't end with your commute.
The case for reducing stress and producing endorphins.
Integrative neurologist Dr. Ilene Ruhoy says that while all movement is better than no movement, cleaning your house doesn't replace the tremendous benefits of dedicated exercise. "I think the point of the research showing how little you have to do is to suggest we should not become sedentary beings just because we have televisions and computers," she explains. "But in reality, we need to challenge the muscles, nerves, heart, and lungs. Evolutionarily, we were meant to run, bend, reach, jump, and climb."
She adds that heart-pumping exercise comes with unique stress-reducing benefits, not to mention the ability to produce endorphins like nothing else. "Beyond that, we can choose to make it a time with friends or make it time for solitude," she says. "We can decide what activity we do instead of just doing the chores we have to do to get movement in our lives. So, yes, move around and don't sit for long periods of time. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. But try to engage in regular heart-pumping, body-bending exercise on a regular basis because you will get many more benefits."
Exercise is the ultimate form of self-care.
In a world where we're prioritizing self-help in self-care, it doesn't get much better than exercise, and psychotherapist Nathalie Theodore calls working out the ultimate form of self-care. "The endorphin boost helps improve mood, and it’s a great way to de-stress from the aggravations of everyday life," she says. "Exercise is also very empowering. Oftentimes, people start an exercise regime and are surprised at what they’re capable of achieving. This can be a great boost for self-esteem and can empower someone to make other positive changes in their lives."
She adds that exercise as a way to build a strong community has endless benefits—like the people you look forward to seeing at your aforementioned 6 a.m. cycling class. "Exercise can provide a social outlet and sense of community. Running with a group or joining a yoga studio are great ways to connect with friends and meet new people."
In other words, some movement is always better than no movement—but don't roll up your yoga mat just yet.
Want to learn more about what types of benefits exercise has on the body and brain? Here's how yoga changes your DNA—and why that's important.