We all probably recognize that going to the gym or going for a run or swim is good for us and our heart, but what about walking to work, or taking the stairs while at work or even the vacuuming?

In a new study that I along with collaborators from 17 countries conducted, we found that being active is what matters and not how you do it.

Using data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiologic (PURE) Study of more than 130 000 people from low, middle and high income countries, we were able to look at the effects of being active during work or household activities. Previous studies have focused on people in high income countries who tend to have primarily sedentary jobs and as a result, need to be active in their leisure time. The reverse is true in low and middle income countries where being active while working or at home is more common.

The current guidelines recommend being active for 150 minutes per week (about 20-30 minutes per day). Globally, 1 in 4 people do not meet that recommendation, however, in many high income countries that number increases to more than 3 in 4 people who do not meet those guidelines.

From our study, we found that meeting those guidelines was associated with a 28% reduction in risk of death and a 20% reduction in the risk of heart disease. And it didn’t matter if that activity came from being active during leisure time or at work.

The benefits also continued at very high levels with no indication of a ceiling effect; people getting more than 750 minutes of brisk walking per week had an even greater decrease in risk of death. While very few participants achieved this level of physical activity in their leisure time, when including time spent being active at work or home, or active commuting nearly two out of five people achieved those high levels. Therefore, incorporating activity into your daily life can reduce your risk even more.

Going to the gym is great, but we only have so much time we can spend there. As discussed in a previous blog, simple things like going for a walk during your work break, or taking the stairs, even washing the windows at home counts.

If everyone was active for at least 150 minutes per week, 1 in 12 deaths would be prevented. For low and middle income countries, this is good news as physical activity represents a low cost, and effective way, to reduce risk for premature death and heart disease.

Being physically active does not need to be complicated, or cost money, it can be done in your home, at work and in your leisure time. The main thing is to be moving often throughout the day.