The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation for reducing the risk of common diseases by exercising is five times less than what it should be according to a recent Australian study.
The study is part of the Global Burden of Disease study, which is coordinated from Seattle, USA, pooling the results of a previous study on how much activity is needed to reduce the risk of disease.
Senior Lecturer at The School of Public Heath (UQ), Dr Lennert Veerman, who was involved in commenting on an early draft of the study, says that unlike other studies that only looked at leisure-time physical activity, this study also includes transport, domestic and occupational physical activity in its recommendation.
“Physical activity indeed reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, breast cancer and bowel cancer,” said Dr Veerman.
WHO recommends adults aged 18-64 should do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity a week.
Australia’s national physical activity guidelines suggest that Australians should aim for 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
The study confirms that the level of activity reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
The study also found that people get more health benefits and reduced risk of common disease up to the level which is equivalent to five-times the WHO guidelines.
The study looked at how different types of physical activity could contribute to the recommendation.
“We added those domains and unsurprisingly, this leads to levels of activity that are higher than if you only look at leisure time,” said Dr Veerman.
Dr Veerman says that while achieving high levels of physical activity is challenging, he advises the inclusion of physical activity in all domains of life.
“When compared to others [studies] which are more about leisure time activity, it would seem that this higher level of health benefit would be more difficult to achieve,” he said.
“Unless you factor in all the other domains that you do like housework and during your work,” said Dr Veerman.
Dr Veerman says the trick to achieving the studies recommendation is to factor in daily life choices.
“When taking the stairs and taking the lift, the stairs give you a little bit extra,” he said.
“If you cycle or walk to work or take public transport and walk or cycle part of it, then you get extra health benefits.
“The trick is to make it a natural part of what you do rather than go out specifically.”
While the individual has to make a conscience effort to change their habits Dr Veerman says cities and small towns are working toward making it easier for people to be physically active.
“We need environment to make it easy and safe to do,” he said.
“We need good walk ways; it should be easy to walk places that are nearby,” said Dr Veerman.
“We need good bikeway networks so people who want can go to work by bike and get their physical activity that way and fortunately, many cities and towns are working to create that healthy environment.”