It’s all good: Any ex­er­cise cuts risk of death, study finds

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Mar­i­lynn Mar­chione

Week­end war­riors, take a vic­tory lap. Peo­ple who pack their work­outs into one or two ses­sions a week lower their risk of dy­ing over roughly the next decade nearly as much as peo­ple who ex­er­cise more of­ten, new re­search sug­gests.

Even peo­ple who get less ex­er­cise than rec­om­mended have less risk than folks who don’t break a sweat at all.

“If some­one is com­pletely in­ac­tive, the best thing they can do is even get­ting out and tak­ing a walk,” said Han­nah Arem, a health re­searcher at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. For peo­ple who think they don’t have enough time for small amounts of ex­er­cise to mat­ter, the re­sults are “en­cour­ag­ing or per­haps mo­ti­vat­ing,” she said.

She had no role in the study, but wrote a com­men­tary pub­lished with the re­sults Mon­day in JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine.

Here are some things to know.

How much ex­er­cise do we need?

U.S. and global guide­lines call for 150 min­utes of mod­er­ate or 75 min­utes of vig­or­ous ex­er­cise each week, ide­ally spread out so you get some on most days.

That’s based on many pre­vi­ous stud­ies sug­gest­ing a host of ben­e­fits be­yond the risk of pre­ma­ture death that this study mea­sured.

How the study was done

Re­searchers at Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity in Eng­land used sur­veys by trained in­ter­view­ers on nearly 64,000 adults in Eng­land and Scot­land from 1994 to 2008. By last year, 8,802 had died.

Par­tic­i­pants were grouped ac­cord­ing to how much ex­er­cise they said they got the pre­ced­ing month:

• In­ac­tive (no leisure time ex­er­cise), 63 per­cent.

• Reg­u­lar ex­er­cis­ers (meet the guide­lines), 11 per­cent.

• Week­end war­riors (get the rec­om­mended weekly amount but in one or two ses­sions), 4 per­cent.

• In­suf­fi­ciently ac­tive (get less than the rec­om­mended weekly amount), 22 per­cent.


The risk of dy­ing was about 30 per­cent lower in week­end war­riors and in­suf­fi­cient ex­er­cis­ers ver­sus those who were in­ac­tive. Reg­u­lar ex­er­cis­ers low­ered their risk a lit­tle more, by 35 per­cent.

Any amount of ac­tiv­ity helped cut the risk of dy­ing of heart dis­ease by about 40 per­cent, com­pared to be­ing a couch potato.

Does this mean the guide­lines are bunk?

No, in­de­pen­dent ex­perts say. Ex­er­cise has many other ben­e­fits such as help­ing to pre­vent de­men­tia, de­pres­sion, high blood pres­sure, un­healthy sleep pat­terns and diabetes. Some of these ef­fects are short-lived, so ex­er­cis­ing more of­ten gives more of them, Arem said.

“I don’t know that we’re ready to say, based on this study, that peo­ple shouldn’t try to ex­er­cise more than that if they can,” said Dr. Daniel Rader, pre­ven­tive car­di­ol­ogy chief at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. “Peo­ple who ex­er­cise more reg­u­larly re­port that they feel like they have a bet­ter qual­ity of life,” among other ben­e­fits, he said.

Still, the re­sults are “quite fas­ci­nat­ing and a bit sur­pris­ing” on the “dose” of ex­er­cise needed for ben­e­fit, Rader said. “Even if you only have time to do some­thing once a week, this study would sug­gest it’s still worth do­ing.”

Caveats to the study

More than 90 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants were white, so re­sults may dif­fer in other racial or eth­nic groups. Ex­er­cise was only as­sessed at the start of the study and could have changed over time.

The big­gest lim­i­ta­tion is that ob­ser­va­tional stud­ies like this can only sug­gest ex­er­cise and health risks may be re­lated; they can­not prove the point.

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