One in ten early deaths could be prevented if everyone achieved at least half the recommended level of physical activity, say a team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.
In a study published today in British Journal of Sports Medicinethe researchers say that 11 minutes a day (75 minutes a week) of moderate physical activity — such as a brisk walk — is enough to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. .
Cardiovascular diseases — such as heart disease and stroke — are the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 17.9 million deaths per year in 2019, while cancers accounted for 9.6 million deaths in 2017. Physical activity — especially when it is moderate-intensity – it is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and the NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per weeks.
To explore the amount of physical activity required to have a beneficial effect on some chronic diseases and premature death, researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis, at collating and analyzing. cohort data from all published evidence. This approach allowed them to bring together studies that on their own lacked sufficient evidence and sometimes disagreed with each other to provide more solid conclusions.
In total, they looked at findings reported in 196 peer-reviewed articles, covering more than 30 million participants from 94 large study cohorts, to produce the largest analysis to date of the association between physical activity levels and disease risk heart, cancer, and early death.
The researchers found that, outside of work-related physical activity, two in three reported activity levels below 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity and less than one in ten did more than 300 minutes per week.
Overall, they found that beyond 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, the additional benefits in terms of reduced risk of disease or early death were marginal. But even half this amount came with significant benefits: accumulating 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity had a 23% lower risk of early death.
Dr Soren Brage from the MRC’s Epidemiology Unit said: “If the idea of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week sounds a little scary, our findings should be good news. Physical activity is better don’t be physically active. This is also a good starting point — if you find that 75 minutes a week is manageable, you could try to gradually increase it to the full recommended amount.”
Seventy-five minutes per week of moderate activity was also enough to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 17% and cancer by 7%. For some specific cancers, the reduction in risk was even greater — head and neck, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, and gastric cardia had a 14-26% lower risk. For other cancers, such as lung, liver, endometrial, colon, and breast cancer, a 3-11% lower risk was observed.
Professor James Woodcock from the MRC’s Epidemiology Unit said: “We know that physical activity, such as walking or cycling, is good for you, especially if you feel it gets your heart rate up. But the thing is we’ve found that even if you can only manage 10 minutes a day, there are substantial benefits to your heart health and reducing your cancer risk.”
The researchers calculated that if everyone in the studies did the equivalent of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, one in six premature deaths (16%) would be prevented. One in nine (11%) cases of cardiovascular disease and one in 20 (5%) of cancer would be prevented.
However, even if everyone managed at least 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, one in ten (10%) early deaths would be prevented. One in twenty (5%) cases of cardiovascular disease and almost one in thirty (3%) cancer cases would be prevented.
Dr Leandro Garcia from Queen’s University, Belfast said: “Moderate activity doesn’t necessarily have to do with what we normally think of as exercise, such as sports or running. Sometimes, certain habits need to be replaced For example, try walking or cycling to your place of work or study instead of using a car, or get active with your children or older children. Activities that you enjoy are a great way to be more active. of them and which are easy to include in your weekly routine.”
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the European Research Council.
What counts as moderate-intensity physical activity?
Moderate-intensity physical activity raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, but you would still be able to talk during the activity. Examples include:
- Walking briskly
- Riding a bike
- Playing tennis