Being active could prevent 1 in 12 deaths

Walking for 30 mins most days offers big benefits
  • Deborah Condon

One in 12 deaths could be prevented if all adults undertook 150 minutes of physical activity every week, a new study has found.

Adults are recommended to get 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week - that is 150 minutes.

While being active is already known to offer huge health benefits, studies have tended to focus on high-income countries and exercise that is undertaken as a leisure activity, which is less common in lower income countries.

International researchers decided to look into this further.

They carried out the largest study ever undertaken in this area, tracking 130,000 people aged between 35 and 70 in 17 different countries, including Canada, Sweden, Poland, South Africa, China and India.

They found that completing 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week is associated with a reduced risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

In fact, the findings suggest that if the entire population was physically active for this long each week, 8% of deaths - that is one in 12 - could be prevented, while 4.6% of cardiovascular disease cases - almost one in 20 - could also be prevented.

Furthermore, if everybody was highly active, undertaking 750 minutes of activity each week, 13% of deaths (one in eight cases) could be prevented, along with 9.5% of cardiovascular disease cases (almost one in 10).

The study found that 18% of the participants were not meeting the minimum physical activity recommendations, however 44% were highly active.

The researchers noted that the findings stood irrespective of the person's home country, other risk factors for disease and the type of physical activity. The results were also irrespective of whether the activity was undertaken as a recreational activity, such as playing a sport, or if it was undertaken as part of a person's daily transport, their work, or housework.

"Meeting physical activity guidelines by walking for as little as 30 minutes most days of the week has a substantial benefit, and higher physical activity is associated with even lower risks," commented the study's lead author, Dr Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University and St Paul's Hospital in Canada.

He noted that the affordability of other cardiovascular disease interventions, such as medicines and the consumption of fruit and vegetables, can often be beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries.

"However, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to preventing cardiovascular disease, and our study provides robust evidence to support public health interventions to increase all forms of physical activity in these regions," he said.

The study noted that physical activity undertaken as part of a person's transport, job or housework, was the most common type of activity across all regions of the world. Physical activity in leisure time was common in high-income countries, but was rare in other regions.

Overall, the more active a person was, the lower their risk of death and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, no risks were linked with extremely high levels of activity (more than 2,500 minutes per week).

The researchers called on people to build physical activity into their daily lives as much as possible.

"Our study found that high physical activity was only possible in people who completed physical activity as a form of transport, part of their job or through housework - with 37% of people who acted in this way attaining this level of activity, compared to 2.9% who were only physically active in their leisure time. This reflects the challenge of trying to be highly active during limited daily leisure time outside of work and domestic duties," Dr Lear added.

Details of these findings are published in the medical journal, The Lancet.


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