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August 26, 2022

Charted: The most beneficial activities for lowering your risk of early death

Daily Briefing

    Findings from a new study published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open suggest that certain physical activities can decrease the risk of early death, as well as death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

    Cheat sheet series: Population health

    Study details and key findings

    For the study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. The researchers looked at data from 272,550 respondents between the ages of 59 and 82 who answered questions about their leisure activities.  To determine the effect leisure activities had on mortality, they followed participants for about 12 years, analyzing their health records for deaths from cancer, heart disease, or any other cause.

    Overall, the study found that any combination of moderate-intensity aerobic activity done for the recommended 2.5 to 5 hours per week and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity done for the recommended 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week was linked to a 13% lower risk of death from any cause when compared with no physical activity.

    Walking for exercise was the most common leisure activity (78% of participants), followed by other aerobic exercise (30%), cycling (25%), golf (14%), swimming (10%), running (7%), and racquet sports (4%).

    Participants who played racquet sports saw the largest reduction in cardiovascular issues, with a 27% reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular issues and a 16% reduction in early death.

    For cancer risk, the largest reduction was associated with running—a 19% reduction. Running was also associated with a 15% reduction in the risk of an early death.

    After racquet sports and running, walking for exercise was the most beneficial leisure activity for reducing the risk of early death, with a 9% reduction.

    According to the researchers, all leisure activities included in the study were tied to some reductions in the risk of death.

    "Participation in any of the activities was associated with lower mortality in comparison with those who did not participate in each activity, including moderate-intensity activities," wrote study author Eleanor Watts.

    However, the researchers noted that the study only showed an association between the leisure activities and a lower risk of death—their findings did not demonstrate a full cause and effect. (LaMotte, CNN, 8/24; Watts et al., JAMA Network Open, 8/24)

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