For years, we’ve heard that physical activity is good for us. Most researchers studying the effects of exercise consider activities such as jogging, swimming, even mowing the lawn and vacuuming. But do less obvious physical activities—such as fidgeting—also help increase longevity?

In an article published in the July 12, 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association , researchers measured the effects of all physical activity on risk of death in older adults. They found that men and women who used up the most energy, through any type of activity, had a significantly lower risk of death than those who expended the least energy.

About the Study

The researchers recruited 302 men and women, ages 70-82, who could independently perform daily activities, walk at least 0.4 kilometers (quarter mile), and climb at least ten stairs without difficulty. For one week, the study participants recorded how often and for how long they participated in physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or working for pay. At the beginning of the study, and then two weeks later, the researchers measured the study participants’ daily energy expenditure (the number of calories they burned). They calculated energy expenditure by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide present in urine samples taken after the study subjects drank a special type of water. Over an average follow-up period of 6.15 years, the researchers analyzed the relationship between daily energy expenditure and death, taking several factors that could affect longevity, such as age; weight; body mass index; health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes; and smoking status, into account.

The one-third of study participants with the highest daily energy expenditure had a 69% lower risk of death compared to the one-third of study participants with the lowest daily energy expenditure. Every additional 287 calories burned per day corresponded with a 30% lower risk of death. Calories burned by traditional physical activity only accounted for some, but not all, of the difference in the amount of energy used between those with the highest and lowest daily energy expenditures.

How Does This Affect You?

This study found that individuals who burned the most calories everyday, through any kind of activity, had a significantly lower risk of death than individuals who burned the fewest calories everyday.

Through middle age, some of us strive to exercise regularly in hopes of enjoying a long and healthy life. But as we enter our 70s and 80s, it can become more difficult to play tennis, go for a jog, or enjoy a leisurely bike ride.

But what this study suggests is that any and all activities, not just exercise, can influence longevity. As you age, try to find ways to constantly introduce light activities into your day. For example, you can walk around the house while you talk on the phone, wash your dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher, or pretend to conduct an orchestra as you listen to the radio. Now you’ve got even more reason to remain active for life!