Physical activity, heart disease, health, PURE Study, Scott Lear

Being active saves lives, whether a gym workout, walking to work or even housecleaning

September 21, 2017
By Elaine Yong, Communications & Public Affairs, Providence Health Care
Image by Matthias Ripp, CC BY 2.0
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Most of us know all about the benefits of hitting the gym or going for a run, but Community Health Solutions researcher Dr. Scott Lear has found that any type of physical activity can prevent death and heart disease. This includes walking or cycling to work, cleaning the house, and having an active job. The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, a large international study involving more than 130,000 from 17 different countries, was published in the prestigious The Lancet journal this week.

Dr. Lear and his team of researchers demonstrated that meeting the current guideline of 30 minutes of activity a day, or 150 minutes a week, reduced the overall risk of death by 28 per cent, while heart disease death was reduced by 20 per cent. These results were similar regardless of the type of physical activity.

Most of us are clearly not getting enough exercise – only about one in four Canadians reach those guidelines. Dr. Lear says these results of his study show exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. “People often think of it as an all-or-nothing approach, but physical activity can be simple and free, done in ‘bite-size’ five or 10 minute chunks through the day.” For example, he suggests getting up from your desk at work and taking a two minute walk every hour or skipping the elevator for the stairs when possible.

Although previous research from high-income countries shows leisure time activity helps prevent heart disease and death, the PURE study also included people from low and middle-income countries where leisure time physical activity isn’t as prevalent. These countries are financially impacted the most by the burden of heart disease.

In addition, researchers found the benefits of physical activity continued at very high levels with no ceiling effect. People who got more than 750 minutes of brisk walking per week had an even greater decrease in the risk of death. That level is difficult to achieve during leisure time, but much easier if it is part of everyday activities such as active commuting, being active at work or doing household chores.

The bottom line, according to Dr. Lear, “More than one in 12 deaths over a five year period could be prevented if everyone was active for at least 150 minutes per week.” So get walking!

Dr. Scott Lear holds the Pfizer Heart & Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital and is a professor of Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. The PURE study was led by the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.