A short walk each day could be enough to slash the risk of dying early, a new study from the University of Cambridge has revealed.
Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers have reported that moderate-intensity physical activity of just 11 minutes every day or 75 minutes every week, such as a brisk walk, would be sufficient to lower the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and a number of cancers.
Moderate-intensity physical activity is basically defined to be such that it raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, while still being able to speak during the activity. Some examples include brisk walking, dancing, riding a bike, playing tennis or any other physical sport, hiking, etc.
Heart disease and stroke or other cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death globally, responsible for 17.9mn (million) deaths per year in 2019, while cancers were responsible for 9.6mn deaths in 2017, the study reports. Physical activity, particularly when it is moderate-intensity, is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The National Health Service (NHS) recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week.
In order to explore the amount of physical activity necessary to have a beneficial impact on several chronic diseases and premature death, researchers, from the Medical Research Council’s (MRC’s) epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis, pooling and analysing cohort data from all of the published evidence. This allowed them to bring to together studies that on their own did not provide sufficient evidence and, sometimes, disagreed with each other, to provide most robust conclusions.
Overall, the researchers looked at results reported in 196 peer-reviewed articles, covering more than 30mn participants from 94 large study cohorts, to produce the largest analysis to date of the association between physical activity levels and risk of heart disease, cancer and early death.
The study reports that outside of work-related physical activity, two out of three people reported activity levels below 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity and fewer than one in 10 managed more than 300 minutes per week.
Analysis of the observed data suggests 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 per week of moderate-intensity activity brought with it a 23% lower risk of early death.
“If you are someone who finds the idea of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week a bit daunting, then our findings should be good news. Doing some physical activity is better that doing none. This is also a good starting position, if you find that 75 minutes a week is manageable, then you could try stepping it up gradually to the full recommended amount,” says Dr Soren Brage from the MRC epidemiology unit.
According to the study, 75 minutes per week of moderate activity was also enough to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 17% and cancer by 7%. Furthermore, for some specific cancers, such as head and neck, myeloid leukaemia, myeloma and gastric cardia, the reduction in risk was observed to be greater, with a 14%-26% lower risk. For other cancers, such as lung, liver, endometrial, colon and breast cancer, a 3%-11% lower risk was observed.
“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 have found is, there are substantial benefits to heart health and reducing your risk of cancer even if you can only manage 10 minutes every day,” said Prof James Woodcock from the MRC epidemiology unit.
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 (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 per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, around one in 10 (10%) early deaths would be prevented, one in 20y (5%) cases of cardiovascular disease and nearly one in 30 (3%) cases of cancer would be prevented.