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Daily 11-minute brisk walk can cut risk of early death, say University of Cambridge researchers





A brisk walk of about 11 minutes a day lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and a number of cancers, according to Cambridge researchers.

They say one in 10 early deaths could be prevented if everyone managed 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, which is half the amount recommended by the NHS.

A daily brisk walk can help cut the risk of early death
A daily brisk walk can help cut the risk of early death

It suggests adults should target 150 minutes of moderate activities weekly, such as brisk walking, dancing, riding a bike, playing tennis or hiking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity activity.

To explore the amount of physical activity required to have a beneficial impact on the risk of premature death or of several chronic diseases, the researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis, pooling and analysing cohort data from all of the published evidence.

Dr Soren Brage, from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said: “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. 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.”

They found 75 minutes per week of moderate activity cut the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 17 per cent and cancer by seven per cent. The impact was greater on certain cancers – the risk of head and neck, myeloid leukaemia, myeloma, and gastric cardia cancers fell between 14 and 26 per cent.

For other cancers, such as lung, liver, endometrial, colon, and breast cancer, the risk fell between three and 11 per cent.

Prof James Woodcock, from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said: “We know that physical activity, such as walking or cycling, is good for you, especially if you feel it raises your heart rate. 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.”

Physical activity – particularly of at least moderate intensity – has long been known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, which are the leading cause of death globally, responsible for 17.9 million deaths in 2019. It also cuts the risk of cancer, which claimed an estimated 9.6 million lives in 2017.

Cardiovascular diseases – such as heart disease and stroke – are the leading cause of death globally, responsible for 17.9 million deaths per year in 2019, while cancers were responsible for 9.6 million deaths in 2017.

Cycling is considered a moderate intensity activity for the terms of the study (62764979)
Cycling is considered a moderate intensity activity for the terms of the study (62764979)

For their study, the Cambridge researchers examined results reported in 196 peer-reviewed articles, covering more than 30 million participants from 94 large study cohorts, creating the largest analysis to date of the association between physical activity levels and risk of heart disease, cancer and early death.

The approach enabled them to bring together studies that on their own did not provide sufficient evidence, or even disagreed with each other, in order to provide more robust conclusions.

Outside of work-related physical activity, two out of three people reported activity levels below the 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity recommended. Fewer than one in 10 managed more than 300 minutes per week.

But in general, they found the reduced risk of disease or early death for those achieving beyond 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity were marginal.

Those accumulating 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity had a 23 per cent lower risk of early death.

The researchers calculated that if everyone in the studies had achieved 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, then one in six (16 per cent) early deaths would have been prevented.

One in nine (11 per cent) cases of cardiovascular disease and one in 20 (five per cent) cases of cancer would be prevented, they said.

If everyone managed at least 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, then about 10 per cent of early deaths would be prevented. They found five per cent of cases of cardiovascular disease and three per cent of cases of cancer would have been prevented.

Dr Leandro Garcia, from Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Moderate activity doesn’t have to involve what we normally think of exercise, such as sports or running. Sometimes, replacing some habits is all that is needed. 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. Doing activities that you enjoy and that are easy to include in your weekly routine is an excellent way to become more active.”

Moderate-intensity physical activity is described as that which raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, but during which you are still able to speak.

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was funded by the Medical Research Council and the European Research Council.



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