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Exercise is associated with benefits, even for those who fall short of recommended amounts. By Jane C. Hu

If you have trouble fitting exercise into your schedule, there may be good news: Compared with inactive people, active people have a decreased risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease even if they exercise just once or twice a week, according to a paper published in the March 2017 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

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The study used survey data collected between 1994 and 2012 from more than 63,500 English and Scottish adults age 40 or older. The majority fell into the “inactive” group, reporting no moderate or vigorous exercise. The “regularly active” group engaged in three or more exercise sessions to complete the amount of exercise recommended by the World Health Organization: 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week. The “insufficiently active” group reported exercising, on average, about 60 minutes per week, falling short of the recommended amount. The smallest group, called “weekend warriors,” achieved the recommended amount of exercise but did so in only one or two sessions.
Compared to those in the inactive group, the members of the regularly active group were, on average, 35 percent less likely to die of any cause and 21 percent less likely to die of cancer during the study’s follow-up period, which ranged from four to 
22 years. “Insufficiently active” people were an average of 31 percent less likely to die of any cause and 14 percent less likely to die of cancer than inactive people. Weekend warriors, on average, were 30 percent less likely to die of any cause than inactive people. While weekend warriors had a lower cancer death rate than inactive people, the difference between the groups was not statistically significant. 

Lead author Gary O’Donovan, a physical activity researcher at Loughborough University in England, encourages all adults to get active in whatever way they can. “I would hope people would remain physically active for the rest of their lives to take advantage of these benefits,” he says.


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