According to the HUNT study presented (August 2019) at the ESC Congress (together with the World Congress of Cardiology), two decades of a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a two times risk of premature death compared to being physically active.
“To get the maximum health benefits of physical activity in terms of protection against premature all-cause and cardiovascular death, you need to continue being physically active. You can also reduce your risk by taking up physical activity later in life, even if you have not been active before.” Dr Trine Moholdt
Physical activity is a behaviour that changes in many people, so it’s important to investigate how changes over time relate to the risk of death in the future. The HUNT study invited all residents of Norway aged 20 and older to participate in 1984-1986, 1995-1997, and 2006-2008. At all three time points, individuals were asked about their frequency and duration of leisure time physical activity.
A total of 23,146 men and women were included in the analysis. Physical activity was categorised as inactive, moderate (less than two hours a week) and high (two or more hours per week). Participants were divided into groups according to their activity levels at each survey.
Physical activity data were linked to information on deaths until the end of 2013 using the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry. The risk of death in each physical activity group was compared to the reference group (those who reported a high level of exercise during both surveys). The analyses were adjusted for factors known to influence prognosis such as body mass index, age, sex, smoking, education level and blood pressure.
Compared to the reference group, people who were inactive in both 1984-1986 and 2006-2008 had a 2-fold higher likelihood of all-cause death and 2.7-fold greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Those with moderate activity at both time points had 60% and 90% raised risks of all-cause and cardiovascular deaths, respectively, compared to the reference group.
Physical activity levels even below advised levels still give health benefits. Physical fitness is more important than the amount of exercise – eg exercises that make you breathe heavily. So get out of breath at least a couple of times each week!
The Take-Home Message?
You can compensate for a previously inactive lifestyle. The sooner you get active, the sooner you will see positive results. Establish good exercise habits as early in life as possible. The health benefits extend beyond protection against premature death to effects in the body’s organs and on cognitive function. Physical activity helps us live longer and better lives.
Source: European Society of Cardiology “Sedentary lifestyle for 20 years linked to doubled early mortality risk compared to being active.”