A new study reveals it’s seemingly never too late to lower your risk of death through exercise, even if you’ve not been particularly active and/or have existing health conditions.
According to the research by the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, the results of which are published in The BMJ, by simply meeting and maintaining at least the minimum public health recommendations for physical activity – currently 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week – the number of deaths associated with physical inactivity could be reduced by 46%.
While several previous studies have investigated the link between physical activity levels and risk of death, this is one of the first that has looked at the impact of changing exercise levels over time on risk of death.
The study of nearly 15,000 Brits aged 40 to 79 found that men and women who were already physically active, benefited the most from increasing their exercise levels. Indeed, individuals who went from 300 minutes of physical activity per week to 450 minutes had a 42% lower risk of mortality.
Participants who were inactive at the start of the study and slowly met the guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (20 minutes a day) over the next five years, had a 24% lower risk of death, compared with those who continued their inactive lifestyles. In other words, if you’re a couch potato, you can reduce your risk of early death by almost a quarter in just five years by simply meeting the government’s minimum exercise guidelines.
The bottom line is that people can experience substantial benefits, regardless of how much exercise they’ve previously been doing.
Speaking about the findings of their research, the team from Cambridge University said: “These results are encouraging, not least for middle-aged and older adults with existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, who can still gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, lending further support to the broad public health benefits of physical activity.
The team also said that in addition to shifting the population towards meeting the minimum physical activity guidelines, public health initiatives should also focus on encouraging people to maintain activity levels – specifically preventing declines over mid to late life.
During the study – which assessed participants between 1993 and 1997 and followed them until 2016 – there were 3,148 deaths, including 1,091 deaths from cancer and 950 deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Individuals who were inactive at the start of the study, but later met minimum exercise guidelines, lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by 29% and their risk of death from cancer by 11%.
For the study, researchers derived people’s physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE) using questionnaires and combined movement and heart monitoring measurements for calibration.
So even if you are not particularly active right now and haven’t been throughout your life, you can still stand to benefit and lower your risk of early death by increasing your exercise levels now.
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