Taking a brisk 20-minute daily walk could lessen an inactive person’s risk of early death, a University of Cambridge study has revealed
Research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that lack of exercise is twice as likely to cause early death as being overweight or obese.
As part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study, the research led by sports medicine professor Ulf Ekelund assessed 334,161 men and women across Europe to consider the link between lack of exercise, obesity and early death.
Data gathered over 12 years included the height, weight, waist size measurements and self-reported physical activity levels of participants, who were followed between 1992 and 2000, during which time 21,438 of them died.
Links between early death and physical inactivity were observed across all levels of overweight and obesity measures – both in terms of overall BMI and abdominal obesity. When comparisons were made between the number of deaths linked to obesity and to inactivity the study revealed that double the number of deaths were linked to lack of physical activity.
Physical activity levels— combining leisure and at work activity, categorised 22.7% of participants as inactive based on self-reporting of having no recreational activity and being sedentary at work.
“Just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive.” Says Prof. Ekelund who led the research in the University’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit.
The research analysis found that burning just 90-110 calories daily—the equivalent of a 20-minute brisk walk—was enough to move an individual from the inactive to the moderately inactive group and reduce their risk of early death by 16-30%.
Although the effect of exercise was greatest among participants of normal weight, the analysis showed that physical activity also benefited overweight and obese participants. Prof. Ekelund reminds 20 minutes remains a minimum recommendation for all since “physical activity has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life.”
Co-author Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the MRC Unit at Cambridge, agrees that although public health efforts that reduce levels of obesity are important, we should also be helping people increase overall activity as this could be easier to achieve, maintain and can have significant health benefits.
Evidence of the benefits of recreational activity, outside of the confines of what is traditionally considered exercise, has been found in other studies, including a recent study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology which found that yoga is just as good as walking, cycling and aerobics in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease.