Leisure activities lowers risk of cancer, heart disease and death

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Want to live a longer, healthier life? Pick an activity you enjoy, and get moving. Choose just about anything – running, swimming laps, playing tennis, cycling, golf, racket sports or even walking for exercise.

All of these leisure activities appear to lower the risk of early death, as well as death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The study from the National Cancer Institute analyzed responses from over 272,000 people between the ages of 59 and 82 who completed questionnaires about their leisure time activities as part of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, a longitudinal study of the relationship between diet and health.

The study researchers followed participants for a dozen or so years and analyzed health records for deaths from cancer, heart disease and any cause.

Physical activity guidelines in the United States recommend that American adults do 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.

Any combination of aerobic-based activity done for the recommended amount of time per week was associated with a 13% lower risk of death from any cause when compared with doing none of the activities, the researchers found.

Playing racket sports had the highest return for cardiovascular issues: There was a 27% reduction in risk for death from heart disease and a 16% reduction in early death. The largest reduction in cancer risk (19%) was associated with running, while running reduced risk of an early death by 15%, the study said.

Walking for exercise was the most beneficial for lowering the risk of early death after racket sports and running, the study found.

All the activities studied were associated with some lower risks of death, the study found.

“Participation in any of the activities was associated with lower mortality in comparison with those who did not participate in each activity, including moderate-intensity activities,” wrote study author Eleanor Watts, a postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The study could only show an association, not a full cause and effect.