Household chores such as vacuuming or scrubbing the floor, or merely walking to work provide enough exercise to protect the heart and extend life.
One in 12 deaths could be prevented with 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. That's the conclusion from the world's largest study of physical activity, which analyzed data from more than 130,000 people across 17 countries.
At the start of the study, participants provided information on their socioeconomic status, lifestyle behaviors, and medical history. They also answered a questionnaire about the physical activity they complete over a typical week. Participants were followed-up at least every three years to record information about cardiovascular disease and death for almost seven years.
Over the period studied, Scott Lear, from McMaster University in Canada, and his colleagues found that 150 minutes of activity per week reduced the risk of death from any cause by 28 percent and rates of heart disease by a fifth.
Being highly active was associated with even greater benefits: people who spent more than 750 minutes walking briskly each week reduced their risk of premature death by 36 percent.
Results showed that it was not necessary to run, swim, or work out at the gym. Household chores such as vacuuming or scrubbing the floor, or merely walking to work provided enough exercise to protect the heart and extend life.
"Going to the gym is great, but we only have so much time we can spend there. If we can walk to work, or at lunchtime, that will help too," says Lear.
The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week.
The study found that if the world's population met these guidelines, 8 percent of global deaths over seven years would be prevented.
"The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death," says James Rudd, senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine, at the University of Cambridge. "If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post."