One in ten premature deaths could be avoided if everyone achieved at least half the recommended level of physical activity, according to a team led by researchers from the University of Cambridge.
In a study published on February 27 in the British Journal of Sports Medicineresearchers claim that 11 minutes a day (75 minutes a week) of moderate-intensity physical activity – such as brisk walking – is enough to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and a number of cancers.
Cardiovascular diseases – such as heart disease and stroke – are the leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for 17.9 million deaths per year in 2019, while cancers were responsible for 9.6 million deaths in 2017. Physical activity – particularly when it is of moderate intensity – is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and the NHS recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity. moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.
“If you’re someone who finds the idea of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week a bit daunting, then our results should be good news. Getting some physical activity is better than not doing anything. do nothing. ” – Soren Brage
To explore 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 carried out a systematic review and a meta-analysis, pooling and analyzing cohort data from all published evidence. This approach allowed them to pull together studies that on their own did not provide enough evidence and sometimes disagreed with each other to provide stronger conclusions.
In total, they examined results 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 levels of physical activity and the risk of heart disease, cancer and early death.
Researchers found that outside of work-related physical activity, two in three people reported activity levels of less than 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity and less than one in ten people succeeded more than 300 minutes per week.
Overall, they found that beyond 150 min 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 came with significant benefits: accumulating 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity resulted in a 23% reduction in the 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 results should be some good news. Doing some physical activity is better than doing none. It’s also a good starting position – if you find 75 minutes a week to be manageable, then you can try increasing it gradually to the full recommended amount.
Seventy-five minutes a 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 risk reduction was greater – head and neck cancers, 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 has been 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 increases your heart rate. But what we’ve found is that there are substantial benefits for heart health and lowering your risk of cancer, even if you can only manage 10 minutes a day.
The researchers calculated that if everyone in the studies had done the equivalent of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, around one in six (16%) early deaths would be prevented. One in nine cases (11%) of cardiovascular disease and one in 20 cases (5%) of cancer would be avoided.
However, even if everyone managed at least 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, around one in ten (10%) early deaths would be prevented. One in twenty cases (5%) of cardiovascular disease and almost one in thirty cases (3%) of cancer would be avoided.
Dr Leandro Garcia from Queen’s University Belfast said: “Moderate activity doesn’t have to involve what we normally think of as exercise, like sports or running. Sometimes it is enough to replace certain habits. For example, try to walk or bike to your place of work or study instead of using a car, or actively play with your children or grandchildren. Doing activities that you enjoy and that are easy to include in your weekly routine is a great way to become more active.
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the European Research Council.
What is moderate-intensity physical activity?
Moderate-intensity physical activity increases your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, but you would still be able to talk during the activity. Examples include:
- Fast walk
- Ride a bike
- Play tennis
Reference: “Non-occupational physical activity and the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality: a dose-response meta-analysis of large prospective studies” by Leandro Garcia, Matthew Pearce, Ali Abbas, Alexander Mok, Tessa Strain, Sara Ali, Alessio Crippa, Paddy C Dempsey, Rajna Golubic, Paul Kelly, Yvonne Laird, Eoin McNamara, Samuel Moore, Thiago Herick de Sa, Andrea D Smith, Katrien Wijndaele, James Woodcock and Soren Brage, February 27, 2023, British Journal of Sports Medicine.