It’s never too late to get active – new study

By June Shannon Heart News   |   4th Sep 2019

A sedentary lifestyle puts you at an increased risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease, but you can reduce this risk by getting active.

People who lead largely sedentary lifestyles are risking early death from heart disease or stroke. However, the good news is they can reduce this risk by getting active, even if they have never been active before, a new study has found.

According to the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (The HUNT Study); a longitudinal population health study in Norway, which was presented recently at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress in Paris, two decades of a sedentary lifestyle was associated with a two times risk of early death compared to being physically active

Study author, Dr Trine Moholdt of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway said, “Our findings imply that to get the maximum health benefits of physical activity in terms of protection against premature all-cause and cardiovascular death, you need to continue being physically active. You can also reduce your risk by taking up physical activity later in life, even if you have not been active before.”

The aim of the study was to examine how changes in physical activity over 22 years were related to subsequent death from all causes and from cardiovascular disease.

Most studies investigating the link between physical activity and a long life have asked participants about their level of physical activity only once, and then followed them for several years. But physical activity is a behaviour that changes in many people, so it is important to investigate how such changes over time relate to the risk of death in the future.

"You can also reduce your risk by taking up physical activity later in life, even if you have not been active before.”

Dr Trine Moholdt , The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Physical activity data was linked to information on deaths until the end of 2013 using the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry. The risk of death in each physical activity group was compared to the reference group (those who reported a high level of exercise during both surveys). The analyses were adjusted for factors such as body mass index, age, sex, smoking, education level, and blood pressure.

Compared to the reference group, people who were inactive between 1984–1986 and 2006–2008 had a 2-fold higher likelihood of death from all causes and a 2.7-fold greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Those with moderate activity at both time points had 60% and 90% increased risks of all-cause and cardiovascular deaths, respectively, compared to the reference group.

Dr Moholdt noted that there are clear recommendations about the amount of exercise adults should do to optimise their health, which are 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity.

But she added: “An important point to make here is that physical activity levels even below the advised levels will give health benefits. Physical fitness is more important than the amount of exercise. Clinicians should individualise their advice and help people do even smaller amounts of activity that will improve fitness – this includes all types of exercise that make you breathe heavily.”

“Do activities you like and get more movement into your everyday life,” she continued. “For example, walk to the shops instead of driving, get off the metro a stop early, and use stairs instead of the lift. I recommend everyone to get out of breath at least a couple of times each week.”

As for those who changed categories between surveys, people who went from inactive to highly active had a mortality risk that was between those who were continually active or continually sedentary. In contrast, those who went from highly active to inactive had a similar risk of dying as those who were inactive at both surveys.

“Our data indicate that you can compensate for a previously inactive lifestyle and the sooner you get active, the sooner you will see positive results,” said Dr Moholdt.

“My advice is to establish good exercise habits as early in life as possible. The health benefits extend beyond protection against premature death to effects in the body’s organs and on cognitive function. Physical activity helps us live longer and better lives.”

"The Hunt Study shows that it is never too late to get active so take every opportunity to move more,"

Tara Curran, Slí na Sláinte Coordinator, Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting Tara Curran, Slí na Sláinte Coordinator with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “Adults should take 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least five days a week. However, even if we achieve the recommend physical activity guidelines but are sedentary for long periods of time, we could still be putting our heart health at risk.”

“We encourage people to move more regularly throughout their day and break up time spent sitting with regular movement. The Hunt Study shows that it is never too late to get active so take every opportunity to move more. Find an activity you enjoy, get active with a friend, use the stairs instead of the lift and plan activity into your leisure time.”

This September, The Irish Heart Foundation is encouraging everyone to sit less and move more with its month long heart health campaign entitled, ‘Escape Your Chair’.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of prolonged sitting as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

As part of its #EscapeYourChair heart month campaign, the Irish Heart Foundation has created a range of resources to help people move more and sit less. These include, an online sitting time calculator, a Deskercise video, a Move More Walking Challenge, a Couch to 5k guide, as well as expert tips and advice on how to increase physical activity levels. These are available at

On Saturday, September 28th at 9.30am, the Irish Heart Foundation is encouraging everyone to walk, jog, or run at their local parkrun for the Irish Heart Foundation’s ‘Heart Hero 5K’ in association with parkrun Ireland. To encourage and everyone to get involved, the Irish Heart Foundation is providing a number of different training guides and plans.

For more information please see


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activity ESC Paris 2019 escape your chair get active heart disease physical activity sedentary sedentary behaviour stroke

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