We know that exercise is important to our health, but a recent study of 334,161 European men and women shows that as little as 20 minutes of brisk walking a day could prevent us from dying prematurely.

What this new Cambridge University study is essentially saying is that inactivity is bad. Real bad. And that virtually any kind of physical activity can stave off premature death. The Guardian reports:

Scientists looked at the effects of obesity and exercise on 334,161 European men and women [at an average age of 50 and across 10 countries] whose progress was followed for 12 years. They found that people who engaged in moderate levels of daily exercise โ€“ equivalent to taking an energetic 20-minute walk โ€“ were 16% to 30% less likely to die than those classified as inactive.

Although the impact of exercise was greatest among people of a normal weight, even those with a high body mass index (BMI) levels saw a benefit.

Overall, avoiding inactivity theoretically reduced the risk of death from any cause by 7.35%, said the scientists. Having a BMI lower than obesity levels, defined as a score of 30 or more, was estimated to lower mortality by 3.66%. Keeping waists trim, irrespective of BMI, had a similar impact on death rates as exercise.

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Of those studied, 22.7% were categorized as inactive, working in sedentary jobs and not performing exercise of any sort.

Shockingly, lack of exercise, say the researchers, may have caused nearly 700,000 deaths across Europe in 2008 alone

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Though the researchers recommend a "brisk" 20-minute walk, they say it's important to do more because "physical activity has many proven health benefits." Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of "moderate intensity activity" a week (that's ~20 minutes a day) doing it in sessions of 10 minutes or more.

The findings have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Physical activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC)".

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There's much more at The Guardian.

Photo: Anetlanda/Shutterstock

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