FRIDAY, June 19, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- It's often said that physical activity rates are too low, but a new report takes a different angle and reveals the good news that exercise prevents nearly 4 million premature deaths a year worldwide.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 168 countries on the percentage of people who were getting recommended levels of exercise. The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or an equivalent combination each week.
By combining the exercise data with estimates of the risk of dying early among active and inactive people, the investigators estimated how many premature deaths were prevented by physical activity.
The conclusion: Physical activity reduced premature deaths by 15%, or about 3.9 million lives saved per year.
In the United States, physical activity prevents 140,200 early deaths a year, the study authors said. The report was published June 17 in The Lancet Global Health.
Much attention is focused on the health risks of inactivity, but the benefits of exercise need to be highlighted, according to the researchers at the University of Edinburgh and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
"By focusing on the number of lives saved, we can tell a good news story of what is already being achieved," said study author Tessa Strain, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cambridge.
"It tells us how much good is being done and helps us say 'look how much benefit physical activity is already providing -- let's make things even better by increasing physical activity levels further,'" she said in a university news release.
Strain said the researchers hope the findings will encourage public officials to protect and maintain services at a time when many are asking why more needs to be invested.
Being active during coronavirus lockdowns can be challenging, so the researchers offer the following suggestions: Go for a daily walk; cycle or do whatever activity you are able to do while maintaining social distancing; stretch or do yoga for your muscles and joints; join an online exercise session. If it's an option, gardening is great for stretching and bending.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.
SOURCE: University of Cambridge, news release, June 17, 2020