We know that replacing sedentary behavior with physical activity yields numerous benefits. And while high-intensity models are touted as a way to fast-track success, a new study out of Sweden says it’s not necessary to go all-out in order to boost health.
Published in Clinical Epidemiology (2018; 2018:10, 179–186), the report followed 851 adults over 15 years with the primary goal of understanding the effects of low-intensity activity and moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular-disease mortality and cancer mortality. Activity levels were assessed via accelerometer data.
By the end of the study, there had been 24 deaths from cardiovascular disease, 27 from cancer and 28 from other causes. Data analysis showed an inverse association between mortality data and physical activity rates. The researchers learned that replacing 30 minutes of sedentary activity with light-intensity activity resulted in an 11% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 24% lower risk of cardiovascular-disease mortality. Thirty minutes per day of low-intensity activity was also linked with a 15% lower risk of cancer death.
Engaging in MVPA lowered death risk even further. “Risk reductions were 38% for replacing 10 minutes/day and 77% for replacing 30 minutes/day,” the authors wrote. They could not draw a link between MVPA and reduced cancer death risk.
Study co-author Ing-Mari Dohrn, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is hopeful about the data because it means small behavior changes can lead to big rewards. Responding to questions from Fitness Journal, she said, “We know that many people spend many hours sedentary, which increases the risk of premature mortality and disease, and by exchanging just 30 minutes of that sedentary time with light-intensity physical activity, they can decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by as much as 24%. Cardiovascular disease is one of the major causes of death.”
Dohrn added that the activity doesn’t need to involve traditional forms of exercise. “[It can consist of] everyday activities like cleaning the house, cooking, doing laundry, shopping, walking around, doing light gardening, washing the car or getting up from your desk to walk over to a colleague’s office.”