New study debunks commonly held beliefs about exercise and mortality

We all know that it’s important to lead an active life. There are all kinds of benefits — from better thinking skills to improved overall health.

But it can sometimes feel really overwhelming to fit a new fitness routine into your day, and overall, Americans aren’t very good at exercise. Only 3% of us sit for less than four hours a day and exercise regularly, according to Time.  And with so much of our time spent in offices, who can blame us?

Thankfully, a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology has broken ground on how we can improve our health in small ways, one step at a time. Researchers found that even light activity like walking for 30 minutes a day can lower mortality risk by 17%, which seems like something most of us could achieve.

Study co-author Keith Diaz, an assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, told Time that “exercise doesn’t have to be done for hours at a time. It’s something that anyone can do. It just requires walking, even for short periods of time.”

Of course, the results are better if you exercise more, or more vehemently. Diaz and his colleagues assessed how light intensity or moderate to vigorous physical activity differed in terms of their impact on mortality risk. When people did a moderate or vigorous workout for 30 minutes every day, they had a 35% lower mortality risk.

But we all need a place to start. And for those who feel 30 minutes is too long, even smaller increments can make a difference.

“We used to think that exercise had to be done at a moderate or vigorous intensity. We used to think it had to be done in 10 minutes or more at a time,” Diaz told Time. “Our results kind of shift the narrative a bit. A one-minute burst here and a one-minute burst there actually can still be healthful.”

So instead of going for that 5K during your first workout in three months, maybe baby steps are a good way to start. Even they help. Then, you can build up to that hour-long, vigorous workout. But take heart in knowing that wherever you start, it’s better than the alternative of a sedentary lifestyle.