Benefits of Exercise in Preventing Death

Most people know that physical activity is good for your overall health, but a recent study has indicated just how important even moderate exercise can be. According to a study published in Lancet by Scott A. Lear and colleagues in September 2017, physical activity of any form for at least 150 minutes per week reduces the risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease—and could prevent up to one in 12 deaths around the globe.

Here’s an overview of the study and what the information means for you.


Performed by Lear and colleagues, this study began all the way back in January 2003 and was carried out over a period of seven years, through December 31, 2010. The study aimed to determine the association between the different amounts and types of physical activity and mortality and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in countries of different economic levels.

The researchers studied a large number of participants—130,843, to be precise. These respondents came from 17 countries and were aged between 35 and 70. All participants were without preexisting CVD conditions. Countries for research were classified as follows:

  • High-income: Canada, Sweden, United Arab Emirates
  • Upper-middle income: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Poland Turkey, Malaysia, South Africa
  • Lower-middle income: China, Colombia, Iran
  • Low-income: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe


Over an average of six to nine years of follow-up, the researchers tracked mortality and major CVD events, including mortality, stroke, myocardial infarction or heart failure. Participants simultaneously completed the International Physical Activity Questionnaire, which was used to calculate physical activity:

  • Low physical activity: Less than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week
  • Moderate physical activity: 150 to 750 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week
  • High physical activity: More than 750 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week



Across each region, the most common form of physical activity was active transportation, occupation or domestic duties. Leisure time physical activity was much more common in high-income countries than in other regions. Other results include:


  • Moderate and high physical activity were associated with a 28 percent reduction in the risk for death from any cause. This amount of exercise was also associated with a 20 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease compared to lower amounts of physical activity.
  • Moderate and high physical activity were associated with a reduction in major CVD events. In high-, middle- and low-income countries, higher physical activity directly lowered risk of CVD and mortality.
  • A total of 106,970 participants met activity guidelines, and 44 percent were highly active.
  • Participants who did not meet the activity guidelines were more likely to develop CVD than those who did (5.1 percent versus 3.8 percent). Risk for mortality was also higher for those who did not meet guidelines.
  • The data suggests that 8 percent of deaths and 4.6 percent of CVD events could be prevented around the world if the entire population stuck to these basic physical activity guidelines. If the entire population met the criteria for “highly active,” 13 percent of total deaths and 9.5 percent of CVD events could be prevented.


Benefits were seen in respondents for both recreational and non recreational activity, and it appeared there was no ceiling on this effect. Even walking for 30 minutes on most days of the week was associated with lower risk.

What It Means For You

Incorporating even the low end of the physical activity thresholds listed above can be enormously beneficial to all people. Consider low-cost ways to increase your physical activity, particularly if you’re worried about CVD or related issues. Look to incorporate physical activity into parts of daily life wherever possible.

Your doctor can offer recommendations for physical activity based on your current health status and needs.


“Moderate physical activity could prevent one in 12 deaths globally.”


“Physical activity lowers mortality and heart disease risks.” The Lancet.

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