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Heart Health

03 September 2019

Long-term 'couch potatoes' may face double the odds for early death

A new study shows that it's never too late to get off the couch and that you can reduce your risk of early death by taking up physical activity later in life, even if you have not been active before.

Decades spent on couches, chairs and otherwise not exercising could mean much shorter lives, new research shows.

A Norwegian team who tracked health outcomes for more than 23 000 adults over 20 years found that those who were inactive over that time had twice the risk of a premature death, compared to those who were physically active.

It's never too late

The take-home message from the study: "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," said study author Dr Trine Moholdt of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

And it's never too late to get off the sofa. "You can also reduce your risk by taking up physical activity later in life, even if you have not been active before," Moholdt stressed.

Her team was scheduled to present the findings at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), in Paris.

The study involved Norwegians aged 20 and older who were grouped according to their activity levels, and assessed in two time periods (1984-1986 and 2006-2008).

People were placed into one of three categories: inactive; moderately active (less than two hours of physical activity a week); or highly active (two or more hours per week).

Even a little exercise helps

By the end of 2013, those who were inactive in both time periods were twice as likely to have died from any cause, and 2.7 times more likely to have died from heart disease, specifically, compared with those who were consistently highly active, Moholdt's group reported.

Even a little exercise helped cut the risk. The study found that people who were "moderately" active at both time points had a 60% and 90% increased risk of death from any cause and death from heart disease, respectively, compared to the consistently highly active group.

Currently, the US government's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans advises that adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity.

But, speaking in an ESC news release, Moholdt added that "physical activity levels even below the advised levels will give health benefits. Physical fitness is more important than the amount of exercise."

Having trouble getting motivated? "Do activities you like and get more movement into your everyday life," she advised. "For example, walk to the shops instead of driving, get off the metro a stop early, and use stairs instead of the [elevator]. I recommend everyone to get out of breath at least a couple of times each week."

The findings were presented at a medical meeting and, as such, should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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