A team of researchers led by the University of Cambridge found that at least 10% of early deaths could be avoided if everyone engaged in half of the recommended physical activity levels.
The team published their study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, concluding that just 11 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily, such as a brisk walk, could reduce the risks of various diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the two leading causes of death worldwide, with 17.9 million and 9.6 million deaths recorded in 2019 and 2017, respectively. Physical activity, particularly moderate-intensity activity, is known to reduce the risk of these diseases. The NHS recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity every week.
The team performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to explore how much physical activity was required to have a positive impact on chronic diseases and premature death. They analyzed data from 196 peer-reviewed articles, covering over 30 million participants from 94 large study cohorts. The researchers found that, outside of work-related physical activity, two out of three people had activity levels below 150 minutes per week, and fewer than one in ten managed more than 300 minutes per week.
They found that accumulating 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week brought with it a 23% lower risk of early death. Even beyond the recommended 150 minutes per week, the additional benefits in terms of reduced risk of disease or early death were marginal. The team calculated that if everyone engaged in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, around one in six (16%) early deaths would be prevented, and one in nine (11%) cases of cardiovascular disease and one in 20 (5%) cases of cancer would be prevented.
Moreover, even if everyone engaged in at least 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, around one in ten (10%) early deaths would be prevented, and one in twenty (5%) cases of cardiovascular disease and nearly one in thirty (3%) cases of cancer would be prevented. The team concluded that doing activities that people enjoy and can easily include in their weekly routines is an excellent way to become more active.
Moderate-intensity physical activity raises heart rate and makes breathing faster, but a person would still be able to speak during the activity. Examples include brisk walking, dancing, riding a bike, playing tennis, and hiking. The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and the European Research Council. The findings of the study can be encouraging for individuals who find the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a bit daunting. It means that even 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can bring substantial benefits to heart health and reduce the risk of cancer.