The effect of meeting physical activity guidelines on health risk

A recent review article in released in the British Medical Journal[ (published 1st July 2020) has provided yet further evidence that physical activity has a significant effect on long term health and the importance of meeting activity guidelines. After all, physical inactivity is responsible for between 6-10% of global disease burden and 9% of all preventable deaths worldwide. This represents a significant burden on health care systems and on quality of life.

The study based in the US investigated the effect on death rates and cause of death in over 479,000 individuals across 17 years. The primary investigation looked to answer the question on whether individuals meeting the guidelines for cardiovascular (CV) and resistance exercise (RT), or a combination thereof, had an effect on mortality and disease. The US guidelines for activity levels are reflective of the UK minimum guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week in addition to strengthening activities twice per week.

The study followed individuals at random across the country including a mix of ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic status and education levels. Each of the individuals were asked to report their activity levels and stratified into the following four groups; those meeting both CV and RT guidelines, meeting CV guidelines only, meeting RT guidelines only and not meeting either guideline.

It was found that only 15.9% of participants met both guidelines, with 23.7% meeting CV only and 4.5% meeting RT guidelines only. This means that over 55% of those included were not meeting the average target time of 10.7 vigorous activity minutes or 21.4 minutes of moderate activity per day – the equivalent to 2060 steps above average walking pace per day!

Results from the study showed that for those that met the RT guidelines experienced a 11% reduction in mortality risk, those meeting CV guidelines experienced a 29% reduction and those meeting both guidelines experienced a 40% reduction in mortality rates. For those meeting at least the CV guidelines improvement was shown in all types of mortality studied (heart disease, cancer, renal disease, accidents etc) however the reduction in mortality for the RT group showed improvements only in cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer.

The effect does not seem to be purely preventative either, the study showed that in those with pre-existing health conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc) there was an even stronger reduction in mortality risk.

In conclusion, this review provides yet more evidence that by keeping active in line with government guidelines can reduce your risk of death over the next decade by nearly half. This adds to the existing evidence base showing simply that exercise is medicine.