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HomeEditor's PickShort walks could halve premature death risk – Spanish study

Short walks could halve premature death risk – Spanish study

A study of more than 3 300 physically inactive people found that those who changed their habits saw a significant reduction in mortality.

Spanish scientists tracked the large group of patients, aged up to 80, for 12 years to see what difference changes in their lifestyle could make, reports The Telegraph.

Those who managed a significant boost in exercise levels, meeting recommendations to carry out 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or a 20-minute brisk walk daily, saw mortality fall by 45%.

Even those who only managed a 10-minute walk saw mortality fall by 20%, showed the research, published in the British Journal of General Practice.

If everyone had followed international health advice and managed 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, 20% of deaths could have been avoided, said the researchers.

The impact was at least as much as could be achieved by changing other bad habits, such as smoking, and tackling problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure, said experts.

The research, by scientists from the primary care research unit of Bio-Cruces-Bizkaia Health Research Institute, said any increase in activity, no matter how small, translated into a significant reduction in mortality.

“Inactive patients who performed 10 minutes a day of moderate or five minutes of vigorous activity reduced mortality by 20%,” the study found.

Never too late to take the first small steps

Estimates suggest that more than one-quarter of adults live sedentary lives. Scientists said many doctors doubted that it was worth trying to persuade those with unhealthy lifestyles to overhaul them, and should be encouraged by the findings.

They said many of those leading inactive lives might be spurred on by the news that even a 10-minute daily walk is enough to make a difference.

Researcher Dr Gonzalo Grandes said: “When primary healthcare professionals try to promote physical activity in patients who have been inactive for many years, it is easier to negotiate a small initial goal, such as including 10 minutes of moderate activity a day, which will benefit them and can later be increased progressively.”

Study details

Any increment in physical activity reduces mortality risk of physically inactive patients: prospective cohort study in primary care

Gonzalo Grandes, Arturo García-Alvarez, Maider Ansorena, Ricardo Ortega Sánchez-Pinilla, Jesus Torcal, María Soledad Arietaleanizbeaskoa and Alvaro Sánchez, The PEPAF group.

Published in the British Journal of General Practice on 31 October 2022


It is unclear how engaging in physical activity after long periods of inactivity provides expected health benefits.

To determine whether physically inactive primary care patients reduce their mortality risk by increasing physical activity, even in low doses.

Design and setting
Prospective cohort of 3357 physically inactive patients attending 11 Spanish public primary healthcare centres.

Change in physical activity was repeatedly measured during patients’ participation in the ‘Experimental Program for Physical Activity Promotion’ clinical trial between 2003 and 2006, using the ‘7-day Physical Activity Recall’. Mortality to 31 December 2018 (312 deaths) was recorded from national statistics, and survival time from the end of the clinical trial analysed using proportional hazard models.

After 46 191 person–years of follow-up, compared with individuals who remained physically inactive, the mortality rates of those who achieved the minimum recommendations of 150– 300 min/ week of moderate- or 75–150 min/ week of vigorous-intensity exercise was reduced by 45% (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 0.55; 95% confidence interval [95% CI] = 0.41 to 0.74); those who did not meet these recommendations but increased physical activity in low doses, that is, 50 min/week of moderate physical activity, showed a 31% reduced mortality (aHR 0.69, 95% CI = 0.51 to 0.93); and, those who surpassed the recommendation saw a 49% reduction in mortality (aHR 0.51, 95% CI = 0.32 to 0.81). The inverse association between increased physical activity and mortality follows a continuous curvilinear dose–response relationship.

Physically inactive primary care patients reduced their risk of mortality by increasing physical activity, even in doses below recommended levels. Greater reduction was achieved through meeting physical activity recommendations or adopting levels of physical activity higher than those recommended.


British Journal of General Practice article – Any increment in physical activity reduces mortality risk of physically inactive patients: prospective cohort study in primary care (Open access)


The Telegraph article – The simple health habit that could halve your risk of premature death (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


WHO: New guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour


Leisure physical activity linked to health benefits but not work activity


Regular exercise reduces hip fracture risk in post-menopausal women


Benefits of outdoor walking groups


Stair walking can increase energy more than caffeine


Optimal number of daily steps to reduce all-cause mortality varies by age – Meta-analysis





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