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Eur J Epidemiol. 2015 Jan;30(1):71-9. doi: 10.1007/s10654-014-9965-5. Epub 2014 Nov 7.

Mortality benefits of population-wide adherence to national physical activity guidelines: a prospective cohort study.

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MRC Epidemiology Unit, Box 285 Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge, CB2 0QQ, UK.


We quantified the mortality benefits and attributable fractions associated with engaging in physical activity across a range of levels, including those recommended by national guidelines. Data were from the Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey, a population-based prospective cohort comprising 1,796 male and 2,122 female participants aged 16-96 years, randomly selected from 30 English constituencies in 1990. Participants were tagged for mortality at the Office for National Statistics. Cox multivariable regression quantified the association between self-reported achievement of activity guidelines--150 min of at least moderate activity per week, equivalent here to 30 or more 20-min episodes of at least moderate activity per month--and mortality adjusting for age, sex, smoking status, social class, geographical area, anxiety/depression and interview season. There were 1,175 deaths over a median (IQR) of 22.9 (3.9) years follow-up; a mortality rate of 15.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) 14.4-16.1 per 1,000 person years. Compared with being inactive (no 20-min bouts per month), meeting activity guidelines (30+ bouts) was associated with a 25% lower mortality rate, adjusting for measured confounders. If everyone adhered to recommended-, or even low-activity levels, a substantial proportion of premature mortality might be avoided (PAF, 95% CI 20.6, 6.9-32.3 and 8.9, 4.2-13.4%, respectively). Among a representative English population, adherence to activity guidelines was associated with significantly reduced mortality. Efforts to increase population-wide activity levels could produce large public health benefits and should remain a focus of health promotion efforts.

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