A 20-Minute Walk Each Day May Save Your Life

Lack of Exercise Kills Twice as Many as Obesity

People walking their dogs
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If you are inactive, simply adding a brisk 20-minute walk each day could reduce your risk of death by as much as 30 percent. Lack of exercise increases premature death risk twice as much as being obese, according to a large study.

"This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive," said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, in a press release.

This finding comes from a very large study that followed a third of a million men and women for over 12 years. The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March, 2015. Over the course of the study, 21,438 participants died. Their physical activity level, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were compared. The data was factored for gender, age, education, smoking, and alcohol intake.

What Is Inactivity?

The study labeled people as inactive if they reported a sedentary job and no recreational physical activity. Just under a quarter of the participants were inactive by those criteria. If you have a desk job and you get no more activity at home, you are at risk.
More: Bad health effects of sitting too much

20 Minutes of Brisk Walking a Day Keeps the Grim Reaper Away

Just 20 minutes per day of brisk walking, burning 90 to 110 calories, moves you from the "inactive" category to the "moderately inactive" category.

The researchers found that this reduced the risk of premature death by 16-30% While the biggest effect was seen in those of normal body weight, people who were obese also had a significant decrease in risk.

Decreasing Inactivity Could Save Twice as Many Lives as Reducing Obesity

Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the Medical Research Council Unit, adds: “Helping people to lose weight can be a real challenge, and whilst we should continue to aim at reducing population levels of obesity, public health interventions that encourage people to make small but achievable changes in physical activity can have significant health benefits and may be easier to achieve and maintain.”

These study findings show that you the simplest change in lifestyle can be a big step towards a healthier, longer life. The more we can do to encourage even short bouts of walking, cycling or other activity may save many lives. More: Walk and Live Longer

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Health authorities worldwide recommend 30 minutes of moderately-intense physical activity at least five days per week, such as brisk walking. The bouts of exercise should be 10 minutes or more in length. If averaged over a week, this matches the amount of exercise the study found to be associated with a decreased risk of premature death. More: How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Get Started Walking


Ulf Ekelund, Heather A Ward, et. al. "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)." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. March 2015 ajcn.100065. First published January 14, 2015, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.114.100065

Press Release: "Lack of exercise responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity." University of Cambridge, January 14, 2015.