According to the largest study of its kind, walking briskly for just 11 minutes each day can prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths globally. This is equivalent to 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, which is half of the weekly target of 150 minutes recommended by the NHS.
The study, conducted by experts at Cambridge University, found that activities such as brisk walking, dancing, cycling, playing tennis, and hiking can all significantly reduce the risk of early death, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers, including head and neck cancer and myeloid leukemia.
The study, which analyzed data from 196 peer-reviewed articles and more than 30 million participants from 94 large study cohorts, found that accumulating 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity lowered the risk of early death by 23%. It was also enough to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 17% and cancer by 7%.
“If you are someone who finds the idea of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week a bit daunting, then our findings should be good news,” said Dr. Søren Brage of Cambridge’s Medical Research Council (MRC) epidemiology unit.
“Doing some physical activity is better than doing none. This is also a good starting position – if you find that 75 minutes a week is manageable, then you could try stepping it up gradually to the full recommended amount.”
The researchers found that if everyone in the studies had done the equivalent of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, about one in six (16%) early deaths would have been prevented. However, even if everyone had managed at least 75 minutes a week, about one in 10 (10%) early deaths would have been prevented.
“We know that physical activity, such as walking or cycling, is good for you, especially if you feel it raises your heart rate,” said Prof James Woodcock, also of Cambridge University.
“But what we’ve found is there are substantial benefits to heart health and reducing your risk of cancer even if you can only manage 10 minutes every day.”
Dr. Leandro Garcia of Queen’s University Belfast emphasized that moderate activity did not have to involve traditional exercise, such as sports or running.
“For example, try to walk or cycle to your work or study place instead of using a car or engage in active play with your kids or grandkids,” he said. “Doing activities that you enjoy and are easy to include in your weekly routine is an excellent way to become more active.”
All in all, the study suggests that even small amounts of moderate-intensity activity can have significant health benefits and prevent premature deaths.
Therefore, people who find it challenging to meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week should not be discouraged, as just 75 minutes per week can still make a difference. The key is to engage in activities that you enjoy, and that can be easily incorporated into your weekly routine.
The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.