One in ten premature deaths could be prevented if everyone had at least half the recommended level of physical activity, says a team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.
In a study published today in British Journal of Sports Medicineresearchers say 11 minutes a day (75 minutes a week) of moderate-intensity physical activity — such as a brisk walk — would be enough to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and a range of cancers.
Cardiovascular diseases — such as heart disease and stroke — are the leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for 17.9 million deaths annually in 2019, while cancers accounted for 9.6 million deaths in 2017. Physical activity — especially when it’s moderate-intensity — it’s known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and the NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.
To investigate the amount of physical activity needed to have a beneficial impact on several chronic diseases and premature death, researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis, pooling and analysis of cohort data from all published data. This approach allowed them to bring together studies that on their own did not provide sufficient evidence and sometimes disagreed with each other to provide more reliable conclusions.
Overall, they examined results reported in 196 peer-reviewed articles, covering more than 30 million participants from 94 large study groups, to produce the largest analysis to date of the association between physical activity levels and the risk of heart disease, cancer and premature death. death.
The researchers found that, excluding work-related physical activity, two in three people reported activity levels of less than 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, and less than one in ten managed more than 300 minutes a 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 that amount had significant benefits: accumulating 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity carried with it a 23% lower risk of premature death.
Dr Soren Brage from the MRC’s Epidemiology Unit said: “If you’re someone who finds the idea of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week a little daunting, then our findings should be good news. Getting some physical activity is better than doing none. This is also a good place to start — if you find that 75 minutes a week is manageable, then you could try gradually building up to the full recommended amount.”
Seventy-five minutes a week of moderate activity was also enough to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 17% and cancer by 7%. For some specific cancers, the risk reduction was greater — head and neck cancers, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, and gastric cardia were between 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 raises your heart rate. But what we found is that there are significant benefits heart health and reducing cancer risk even if you can only manage 10 minutes each day.’
The researchers estimated that if everyone in the studies had done at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, about one in six (16%) premature deaths would have been avoided. One in nine (11%) cases of cardiovascular disease and one in 20 (5%) cases of cancer would be prevented.
However, even if everyone managed at least 75 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, around one in ten (10%) premature deaths would be avoided. One in twenty (5%) cases of cardiovascular disease and almost one in thirty (3%) cases of cancer could be prevented.
Dr Leandro Garcia from Queen’s University Belfast said: “Moderate activity does not have to include what we normally think of as exercise, such as sports or running. Sometimes, changing some habits is all that is needed. For example, try walk or cycle to your place of work or study instead of using a car or play actively with your children or grandchildren Doing activities that you enjoy and that are easy to fit into your weekly routine is a great way to get more active .”
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the European Research Council.
What is moderate physical activity?
Moderate-intensity physical activity increases your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, but you’ll still be able to talk during the activity. Examples include:
- Lively walking
- Riding a bike
- Playing tennis