Optimizing the health benefits of exercise may be a matter of using the right training combination—or “exercise cocktail”—that includes plenty of light physical activity, according to a study from Columbia University.

Researchers wanted to find out whether the well-known recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise per day is enough, or if there’s more to the story.

Looking at data from six studies that included more than 130,000 adults in the United Kingdom, United States and Sweden, study authors used a technique called compositional analysis to determine how different combinations of activities affect mortality. Their analysis included moderate-to-vigorous exercise (such as brisk walking, running and other activities that increase heart rate), light physical activity (such as housework or casual walking), and sedentary behavior.

The study revealed these key findings about exercise combos:

  1. 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day reduced the odds of an early death by up to 80% for those who sat for less than 7 hours a day. However, it did not reduce mortality risk for people who were very sedentary more than 11 to 12 hours per day.
  2. People who only spent a few minutes doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity lowered their risk of early death by 30% by engaging in 6 hours of light activity throughout the day.
  1. Getting 3 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity or 12 minutes of light activity per hour of sitting was optimal for improving health and reducing the risk of early death.

With these results in mind, the study authors suggest some beneficial combinations of activities that can reduce the risk of early death by 30%:

  • 55 minutes of exercise and 4 hours of light physical activity with 11 hours of sitting
  • 13 minutes of exercise and 5.5 hours of light physical activity with 10.3 hours of sitting
  • 3 minutes of exercise and 6 hours of light physical activity with 9.7 hours of sitting

The findings provide some helpful pointers for those who may struggle to fit structured exercise routines into their daily lives. While there may not be a single approach to exercising “correctly,” a focus on incorporating light activity into daily habits appears to be a promising place to start.

See also: Inside the Latest Physical Activity Guidelines