Benefits of exercise are greater if the activity is of moderate intensity, study finds

According to one study, increasing your physical activity is good for your health, but the benefits are greater when it is at least moderate in intensity.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Leicester analyzed data from more than 88,000 middle-aged adults who wore a wrist-worn device to measure their physical activity.

Participants wore the accelerometer on their dominant wrist for seven consecutive days in the UK Biobank study.

The researchers calculated participants’ volume of activity, as well as the percentage of it that was moderate-intensity like brisk walking, and vigorous-intensity like running.

They had recorded the number of cardiovascular events, including heart disease, among study participants over an average follow-up period of 6.8 years.

According to the research, a higher volume of total physical activity was strongly associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Getting more of this physical activity from moderate to vigorous exercise has been associated with a further reduction in cardiovascular risk.

Cardiovascular disease rates were 14% lower when moderate-to-vigorous physical activity accounted for 20% rather than 10% of overall energy expenditure from physical activity, even among those with otherwise low levels of activity .

Overall, the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease were seen in participants who engaged in higher levels of physical activity and a higher proportion of at least moderate exercise.

However, when the overall volume of physical activity increased but the proportion of at least moderate-intensity activity remained the same, the authors observed little effect on the rate of cardiovascular disease.

Professor Tom Yates of the University of Leicester, one of the lead authors of the paper, said: “Our analysis of UK Biobank data confirms that increasing the total amount of physical activity can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, but we also found that achieving the same overall amount of physical activity through higher intensity activity has a substantial additional benefit.

“Our findings support simple behavior change messages that ‘every move counts’ to encourage people to increase their overall physical activity, and where possible to do so by incorporating more moderately intense activities.


Research has shown the benefits of a brisk walk over a gentle walk (PA)

“It could be as simple as converting a leisurely stroll into a brisk walk, but a variety of approaches should encourage and help individuals find what is most convenient or enjoyable for them.”

Current physical activity guidelines from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommend adults aim to be active every day and undertake 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of activity of vigorous intensity every week.

The first author of the paper, Dr Paddy Dempsey, a researcher at the University of Leicester and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said that many previous studies s relied on questionnaires to collect data.

This could be problematic, he said, because “the intensity and duration of physical activity are difficult to recall accurately, especially when it comes to low-intensity daily activities like washing the car or sorting the laundry”.

He said analysis of wearable device data demonstrates “moderate and vigorous intensity activity further reduces the overall risk of premature death.”

He added: “More vigorous physical activity may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, beyond the observed benefits of the total amount of physical activity, as it stimulates the body to adapt to the higher effort required. .”

The research is published in the European Heart Journal.

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