Experts estimate that one in twelve deaths could be prevented with just thirty minutes of exercise five days a week, based on a global study of more than 130,000 adults.
Published in The Lancet, this study looked at the association between exercise and heart disease—the leading cause of death worldwide.
Current World Health Organization guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise plus at least two strengthening exercises a week to promote good health. However, it’s estimated that almost a quarter of the world’s population fail to meet these guidelines, contributing to increased risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions. Inactivity is of particular concern in low- and middle-income countries, where cardiovascular disease is especially common.
To learn more about the health benefits of regular physical activity, researchers surveyed 130,843 adults about their levels of exercise, in addition to overall health and lifestyle. Participants came from urban and rural areas in 17 countries and were 35–70 years old at the start of the study.
Based on survey responses, nearly one-fifth of participants did not meet physical activity guidelines, while 44% were considered highly active (750 minutes or more of physical activity a week). Most participants got their exercise from their job, housework or active commuting.
After following participants for nearly 7 years, researchers found that only 3.8% of participants who met physical activity guidelines developed heart disease during the study period, compared to 5.1% of less active adults. Participants who failed to meet exercise guidelines also faced a 6.4% risk of death, compared to 4.2% among those who exercised regularly.
As authors explain these findings suggest that 8% of all deaths and 5% of heart disease cases could be prevented with proper exercise. Authors also add that high levels of activity (more than 750 minutes of exercise a week) could prevent as many as one in 8 deaths globally.
Based on findings, authors recommend incorporating as much physical activity into one’s daily lifestyle as possible.
"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," explains lead author Dr. Scott Lear, Professor of Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Pfizer/Heart & Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital in Canada. "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," adds Dr. Lear.
However, findings also highlight the challenges of getting enough exercise when one’s job is largely sedentary. "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," explains Dr. Lear. Thus, it’s important that adults with sedentary jobs try to incorporate as much exercise as possible into their free time to promote heart health and reduce risk of death.