A brisk 11-minute daily walk can help you live longer, a new University of Cambridge study reports.
Researchers found that 75 minutes a week — 11 minutes daily — of moderate-intensity physical activity is enough to lower a person's risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
The investigators estimated that 1 in 10 early deaths could be prevented if everyone got that amount of exercise, which is half the level recommended by U.S. and British guidelines.
“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,” co-researcher Dr. Soren Brage, of the Medical Research Council at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said in a university news release.
“Doing some physical activity is better than doing none," he added. "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.”
Cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke) were the leading causes of death worldwide, responsible for nearly 18 million deaths in 2019. Cancers were responsible for 9.6 million deaths in 2017.
To examine how much exercise could make a dent in those numbers, the researchers pooled and analyzed data from 94 large studies involving more than 30 million people.
The findings showed that 2 out of 3 people don't get their recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, and fewer than 1 in 10 managed more than 300 minutes of activity per week.
Broadly speaking, the researchers concluded that getting more than 150 minutes a week of exercise produces marginal benefits in terms of reduced risk of disease or death.
But even half that amount came with significant benefits, the team reported.
For example, 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise reduced risk of early death by 23%. It was also enough to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 17% and cancer by 7%.
For some specific cancers, the reduction in risk was even greater. Getting that amount of exercise reduced the risk of head and neck, myeloid leukemia, myeloma and gastric cardia cancers between 14% and 26%.
The researchers calculated that if people get their recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, around 16% of early deaths would be prevented. In addition, 11% of cardiovascular disease cases and 5% of cancer cases would be prevented.
But if folks manage at least 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, around 10% of early deaths would be prevented. And 5% of cardiovascular disease cases and 3% of cancer cases would be prevented.
Further, moderate-intensity exercise doesn't require you to run yourself ragged, the researchers noted. It raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, but you'd still be able to speak during the activity.
Other examples include dancing, riding a bike, playing tennis and hiking.
“Moderate activity doesn't have to involve what we normally think of exercise, such as sports or running,” co-researcher Dr. Leandro Garcia from Queens University Belfast explained.
“Sometimes, replacing some habits is all that is needed,” Garcia added. “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 grand kids. Doing activities that you enjoy and that are easy to include in your weekly routine is an excellent way to become more active.”
The findings were published Feb. 28 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about moderate-intensity physical activity.
SOURCE: University of Cambridge, news release, Feb. 28, 2023