November 1, 2017

How much does exercise really lower your risk of death?

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Nov. 20, 2019.

    People who exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can substantially cut their risk of an early death and of developing heart disease—even if that exercise is nothing more than a walk to the train or some chores around the house, according to a study published in The Lancet.

    Study details and results

    For the study, researchers tracked 130,000 people between the ages of 35 and 70 across 17 low-, middle-, and high-income countries.

    The researchers found that exercising for 150 minutes a week—the amount of time recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for people ages 18 to 64—could reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 20 percent. Moreover, they found as the length of exercise increased, the risk of developing heart disease or dying early decreased. According to the researchers, there were "no risks associated with extremely high levels of physical activity," which was defined as more than 41 hours per week.

    Further, the study found that if the entire world's population were to meet WHO's recommendations, 1 in 12 of the premature deaths in the world would be prevented, as well as 4.6 percent of all heart disease cases.

    Scott Lear—lead author on the study and a heart specialist at St. Paul's Hospital in Canada—said of the findings, "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." According to Lear, the findings are particularly beneficial for people who may not be able to afford other methods of lowering the risk of heart disease, such as taking medication or eating more fruits and vegetables (Thielking, STAT News, 9/22; Kelland, Reuters, 9/21).

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