An 11-minute walk can save you from an early death? That’s my kind of fitness regime | Emma Beddington
There’s (sedentary) rejoicing in my community, the pathologically lazy, at the news that only 11 minutes of brisk walking a day may save us from early death. Of course, multiple caveats must accompany this statement, distilled from a Cambridge University-led meta-analysis of data on physical activity and heart disease. We would have to be in the lucky 10%: only one in 10 early deaths could be avoided with a brief constitutional. Exercise levels were also self-reported, meaning researchers had to make some assumptions about duration and intensity. And 11 minutes is a neatly digestible take-home from analysing 196 studies with more than 30 million participants, not a magic bullet.
We like a magic-bullet figure though, don’t we? Real-world public health messages ought to be distilled from hard science, but sometimes emerge in the absence of it; as with the persistent “10,000 steps” myth. The World Health Organization’s recommendation of 400g minimum of fruit and veg daily became our five-a-day article of faith, even though 2017 research found upping it to 10 a day could prevent 7.8m premature deaths. Brushing your teeth for the recommended two minutes may only reduce plaque by less than half; four minutes is better. But we’re human: most of us manage 45 seconds brushing and only 28% of adults reported reaching our five a day in 2018 (it’s probably even less now, during the Great Salad Penury).
We’re tired and broken and can’t be arsed to do what we know we should. Well, I am. And if you’re on that new “30 plants a week” regime and vibrating with microbiome health, keep it to yourself: I’ve been failing to throw out a rotting cauliflower in the fridge since Christmas. Things need to be realistic and achievable for there to be any chance of most of us doing them and, assuming you are in reasonable health and can walk, this walking one feels achievable. I spend more than 11 minutes staring at that rotten cauliflower most days. To have something so manageable to aspire to feels like a very satisfying compromise wrung from science by exercise refuseniks like me (not budging is something we’re…