If there was an activity that took only five minutes a day, cost no money, and added three years to your life, would you consider doing it?

Turns out, there is such an activity. It’s called running. And according to a study just published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (no slouch as far as medical journals are concerned), running for just five minutes a day can drastically decrease your risk of dying from heart disease or any other cause, and it can add years to your life.

This study has been getting a lot of media attention because it looks to be a game-changer. Currently, the best exercise recommendations – 30 minutes or more of moderate activity most days of the week –might be too non-specific to have much impact.

For busy people, it can be difficult to find the time to follow this recommendation closely, and it might be unclear what exactly is meant by moderate exercise. Is running moderate exercise, or walking? Does gardening count? Swimming? Cycling?

Finally, most exercise recommendations have been “best” guesses based on the existing state of exercise research, and not necessarily based on solid scientific evidence.

This new study, however, clearly demonstrates that vigorous exercise (the study looked exclusively at running) for as little as five minutes a day, can cut your risk of dying from a heart attack by 45 percent and from all causes by up to 30 percent, and add up to three years of life expectancy.

Furthermore, the recommendation to engage in vigorous exercise – either running (even slow running less than 6 mph was effective) or a comparable activity – for at least five minutes a day is straightforward and something that most people can find time to do.

This was a retrospective study – researchers reviewed the charts of over 50,000 patients between the ages of 18 and 100 who sought health care at the Cooper Clinic Institute in Dallas, Texas, at least 15 years prior to the start of the study. Of the study population, 24 percent were runners, with wide variations in the distance and the intensity at which they ran.

When the researchers reviewed the death records of those in the study population who passed away during the time of the study, the runners had a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease (45 percent lower as quoted above), and a 30 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. Running also added an average of three years to the life expectancy.

Here’s the interesting part: It didn’t matter how much a person ran, how intensely they ran or how many miles they ran. The health benefits were essentially the same whether a person ran for 30 minutes a week (an average of five minutes/day) and ran at a slow pace (less than 6 mph) or whether they ran over an hour, more quickly or for greater distances. Even overweight smokers who ran benefited from running, and had a greater life expectancy and lower risk of death than heavy smokers who didn’t run.

So what’s the take-home?

Any vigorous activity, even five minutes’ worth, can have a significant impact on your health and longevity. And while the study looked at running, the findings are likely true of any activity that gets your heart rate going above its resting state, even for just a few minutes a day – so it’s likely that swimming, cycling, rowing or using the treadmill or elliptical confer similar health benefits.

Time to get moving!

Dr. Seth Torregiani practices osteopathic manipulative medicine, acupuncture and integrative medicine in Wilmington.