Small Increases in Physical Activity Could Prevent Over 100,000 Deaths/Year
, by Elise Tookmanian, Ph.D.
For the first time, researchers have used activity monitor data to estimate the public health impact of small increases in physical activity across the U.S. adult population. More than 100,000 deaths were projected to be prevented annually if U.S. adults increased their level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 10 minutes per day. The findings were published on January 24, 2022, as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
Previous studies attempting to estimate deaths prevented through population-level increases in physical activity have depended on less reliable self-reports of physical activity, convenience sampling in cohort selection, and relatively large increases in population activity levels. In the current study, Pedro Saint-Maurice, Ph.D., research fellow, and Charles E. Mathews, Ph.D., senior investigator in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch and Barry Graubard, Ph.D., senior investigator in the Biostatistics Branch used activity monitor data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which includes oversampling of non-Hispanic Black and Mexican Americans. The researchers paired seven days of activity monitor data from NHANES participants between 2003-2006 with National Death Index data available through the end of 2015.
Dr. Saint-Maurice and colleagues found that if U.S. adults age 40-85+ increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 10 minutes per day, approximately 6.9% of annual deaths could be averted—111,174 preventable deaths per year. Greater benefits were associated with larger increases in physical activity. Similar benefits were observed for men, women, Mexican Americans, non-Hispanic Black Americans, and non-Hispanic White Americans. This analysis illustrates the potential impact of public health efforts to increase average physical activity levels.
This study was unable to determine causality; however, previous studies have shown that physical activity improves human health and reduces the risk for several chronic diseases that cause premature death, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Saint-Maurice PF, Graubard BI, Troiano RP, et al. Estimated Number of Deaths Prevented Through Increased Physical Activity Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med 2022.