Results from the Trøndelag Health Study (the HUNT study) was presented at ESC Congress 2019 and the World Congress of Cardiology.
The HUNT study was conducted to determine how changes in physical activity within two decades were linked to “subsequent death from all causes and from cardiovascular disease.”
Other studies on the association between physical activity and longevity only ask volunteers about their level of physical activity once and followed them for several years. However, physical activity is a behavior that constantly changes, highlighting the importance of looking into how these changes over time are linked to the risk of death later in life.
Researchers asked residents of Norway aged 20 and older to participate during three points: 1984 to 1986, 1995 to 1997 and 2006 to 2008.
For all three time points, the volunteers reported their frequency and duration of leisure time physical activity. The researchers then examined data from the first and third surveys.
Data for the analysis was obtained from 23,146 male and female volunteers. Physical activity was classified as:
The volunteers were divided into groups based on their activity levels for each survey. The physical activity data were linked to information on deaths until the end of 2013 via the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry.
The risk of death in the two physical activity groups was compared to the reference group, which included participants who reported a high level of exercise during both surveys.
Analyses were also adjusted for factors that influence prognosis:
Unlike volunteers in the reference group, participants who were inactive in both 1984-1986 and 2006-2008 had twice the risk of premature death and a 2.7-fold greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Compared to the reference group, participants with moderate activity at both time points had a 60 percent and 90 percent greater risk of all-cause and cardiovascular deaths, respectively.
Dr. Trine Moholdt, a study author from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim, Norway, explained that to reap the maximum health benefits of physical activity and prevent premature all-cause and cardiovascular death, people must be physically active consistently.
Moholdt noted that even if you had a sedentary lifestyle, you can still reduce your risk by exercising later in life. Adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity a week to effectively boost their overall well-being.
But these numbers aren't set in stone, said Moholdt. She added that even exercise below the recommended levels will offer some benefits.
Instead of focusing on how much you're exercising, Moholdt suggests setting goals to be more physically fit. Consult a trusted physician for activities that suit your health condition.
Even smaller amounts of activity can help you be more physically fit, as long as your workout “makes you breathe heavily.” (Related: If you have an 8-hour desk job, exercise for 30 minutes daily to significantly improve your health.)
Set aside some time to go to the gym, or sneak in mini-workouts throughout a regular day. Moholdt recommends any exercise that you might enjoy, such as:
Some participants changed categories between surveys and those who went from inactive to highly active had a mortality risk “between those who were continually active or continually sedentary.” On the other hand, volunteers who went from highly active to inactive had a similar risk of dying like those who were inactive at both surveys.
Moholdt said that it's never too late to start exercising even if you've been sedentary for most of your life. Starting exercise sooner ensures that you also see positive results sooner.
Moholdt concluded that you should start and maintain good exercise habits as early as you can. Being physically active doesn't just help prevent premature death, it also helps improve your mental and physical health. Exercising regularly is key to having a longer and healthier life.
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