The Most Important Principles for Staying Young: The Minimum Physical Activity For Maximum Health

10 Oct

Our basic premise is that your body is amazing.  You get a do over. It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t that hard if you know what to do.  In these notes, we give you a short course in what to do so it becomes easy for you and for you to teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over both the quality and length of your life.

This month, we’re talking about data from an exciting new study published in The BMJ (formerly, the British Medical Journal) that shows just how important physical activity is for building up your defenses against serious disease and how it can make your RealAge younger. We’re bragging here, but it almost exactly confirms data, action steps, and recommendations we had in the RealAge program when it was first released in December 1998 and the same conclusions about the minimum activity you have to do for maximum health benefit in the first RealAge: Are You As Young As You Can Be? book published in 1999! (Yes, I am proud; the book was a #1 NY Times Bestseller!).

After examining 174 studies that looked at the effect of physical activity on breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, researchers  from the University of Washington discovered that the minimum activity for maximum health benefits comes from about 4,200 MET minutes a week, or translated to our terms, from just 10,000 steps a day, 30 minutes of resistance training (moving weights against gravity—moving your weight against gravity counts), and 20 minutes three times a week of sweating activity (cardio).  With that you get about 4,200 MET activity minutes a week (see below for understanding MET minutes)—making those cancers, heart disease, and stroke 25 percent less likely. Those benefits are in addition to how effective consistent physical activity (with a touch of sweat please!) is in protecting your brain, enhancing your sex life, and reducing your risk for obesity and all its related woes.

If you have gotten the message, “Stand up, move, walk, play, get active,” congratulations! Back in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only about 20 percent of you met the minimal guidelines for physical activity that decreases risk for these chronic diseases by about 5 percent—barely more than 20 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a day. And we may have gotten worse, the recent NHAENS data from over 50,000 Americans show that less than 60% are getting even 100 MET minutes a week or less than 10 minutes of walking 7 days a week.

Measuring Your Activity Level: Meet MET

The activity gauge the researchers used to evaluate the benefits of kickin’ up your heels is called MET (Metabolic Equivalent Task), an approximate measure of how many calories are burned during any given activity. The World Health Organization recommends that adults get in a minimum of 600 MET minutes weekly—or about 30 minutes of moderate activity daily. Walking at a pace of two-and-a-half mph has a designated MET of 3. If you walk for 30 minutes, multiply 30 by 3—your MET minutes equal 90.  If you jog a 12-minute-mile, your MET is 8 for each minute. Do that for 15 minutes and you’ve racked up 120 MET minutes.

But More…and More…Is Even Better

The researchers also discovered that increasing your MET minutes from 600 to 3,600 a week reduces the risk of diabetes by an additional 19 percent, breast cancer by 14 percent, colon cancer by 21 percent, heart disease by 25 percent, and stroke by 26 percent. And you don’t have to spend six times as much time working out to hit 3,600 METS—you just have to get smart about it by choosing activities that have higher MET values and adding a bit more time.

We’re particularly fond of a walking routine that incorporates interval training. We recommend puff-hard-can’t-talk effort with periods of recovery: Step up your walking pace for four minutes, then take it easy, walking more slowly for three minutes. During your 30 to 60 minute walk, you can repeat this sequence at least two to three times.

But while that’s substantial, we know you can do even more—and get even more life-improving results! You see, in the study, the disease-risk-reducing benefits of increased activity really reached it’s maximum benefit near 4,200 MET minutes a week—or about the RealAge ideal of 10,000 steps (including 20 min of cardio activity that you can get with interval walking) and 40 jumps a day, plus 30 min or more of resistance training, using light hand weights or stretch bands, every week.  Beyond 8,000 MET minutes a week, you get no further health benefit (though you will get fitter), but 8,000 MET minutes gives you only 2% more benefit than 4,200!

So how can you start?  We recommend you write yourself a prescription with the following action steps:

  • Buy two pedometers (so you’ll always have one),
  • Some great walking shoes, and
  • Find a walking buddy. Just start walking.  You can do it.
  • Start scheduling physical activity into your daily calendar—Do It, and keep doing it!
  • Start seeing if you are hitting the 10K a day minimum for maximum health. If not, increase walking by 10K more each week (each day of the week should be 10 minutes or 5% more than the previous week’s average) till you get to 10K.
  • Buy a jump rope and start learning how to do 20 jumps every morning before you start your car.
  • Get up from your desk and walk for two minutes every hour.

And how can you step it up? Do start measuring all your activities including walking, stair climbing, vacuuming, gardening, running, and cycling. Then do the math. You can get a complete MET chart if you google “NCI MET chart” (NCI is the National Cancer Institute). Add up your achievements (it may surprise you how much you do already). By the end of the week, you’ll see just how great you feel when you meet the RealAge ideal of 4,200 MET minutes or even more every seven days!

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send questions—to, and some of them we may know enough to answer (we’ll try to get answers for you if we do not know).

Young Dr Mike Roizen (aka, The Enforcer)


NOTE: You should NOT take this as medical advice. This article is of the opinion of its author. Before you do anything, please consult with your doctor.

You can follow Dr Roizen on twitter @YoungDrMike (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week).  The YOU docs have tow newly revised books: The patron saint “book” of this column YOU Staying Young—revised and YOU: The Owner’s Manual…revised —yes a revision of the book that started Dr Oz to being Dr OzThese makes great gifts—so do YOU: ON a Diet and YOU: The Owner’s Manual for teens.  And, the new book by Dr Mike Roizen: This is YOUR Do-Over

Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. His radio show streams live on Saturdays from 5-7 p.m. He is the co-author of 4 #1 NY Times Best Sellers including: YOU Staying Young.

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