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Physical activity leads to lower risk of chronic conditions

Physical activity leads to lower risk of chronic conditions

Regular exercise may reduce your risk for five common diseases, study findings suggest.

Researchers from the United States collaborated with a team from Australia and found that higher levels of total physical activity are strongly linked to a lower risk of having breast or bowel cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Analysing 174 studies published between 1980 and 2016, the investigators used a formula called MET minutes to estimate how much activity offered the greatest health benefit. MET minutes measure how much energy you burn during physical activity.

The study findings showed the biggest benefit at 3,000 to 4,000 MET minutes a week. A person could get 3,000 MET minutes by weaving activity into their daily routine — for example, 10 minutes of climbing stairs; 15 minutes of vacuuming; 20 minutes of gardening; 20 minutes of running; and 25 minutes of walking or cycling.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommend a minimum total physical activity level of 600 metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes a week across different “domains” of daily life. The authors of the study suggest that total physical activity needs to be several times higher than the current recommended minimum level to potentially achieve larger reductions in risks of these diseases.

"With population ageing, and an increasing number of cardiovascular and diabetes deaths since 1990, greater attention and investments in interventions to promote physical activity in the general public is required," the researchers write in a statement.

“More studies using the detailed quantification of total physical activity will help to find a more precise estimate for different levels of physical activity.”

In a linked editorial, researchers at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, and the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France say this study "represents an advance in the handling of disparate data on a lifestyle factor that has considerable importance for the prevention of chronic diseases."

But they point out that "it cannot tell us whether risk reductions would be different with short duration intense physical activity or longer duration light physical activity."

The study was first published in The BMJ.

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