Gardening for Better Health

Non exercise physical activity linked to better heart health and prolonged life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The benefits of high-impact exercise, like running, swimming and biking, is well documented. Recent research suggests that less active non-exercise activities may provide significant health benefits as well.

A new study found that people who spent more time engaging in non-exercise activity had better heart health and lived longer than people who did not, even if their higher-impact exercise levels were similar.

The researchers suggested that higher levels of non-exercise physical activity were preferable to sedentary (inactive) time. They emphasized that older people especially could benefit from more low-impact, non-exercise physical activity time.

"Stay active, even if it doesn't involve challenging exercise."

Elin Ekblom-Bak, of the Department of Medicine at Karolinska University Hospital, led this study to see how non-exercise physical activity (NEPA) affected health.

Non-exercise physical activity is a level above sedentary time but is not quite exercise. Activities like gardening and car maintenance are low in intensity, but they still involve movement.

Sedentary time is time spent sitting or lying down — watching television, for example.

According to the researchers, promoting NEPA is important especially for older adults, as it reduces the amount of time spent sedentary.

This study looked at 3,893 individuals who participated in a 12.5-year study. The participants were born between July 1937 and June 1938.

During their initial meeting, the researchers gave a survey about physical activity to the participants. They looked at how often participants engaged in NEPA, like home repairs and gardening.

The researchers also took health information, like waist size, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The participants were followed until their death or until the end of 2010, 12.5 years after the initial visit.

The researchers kept data on heart disease events like heart attack and stroke or death from any cause. They also looked at other health events, like development of metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

The researchers found that more time spent on NEPA was associated with a healthier waist size and cholesterol level.

Additionally, participants who did not exercise but did engage in moderate or high levels of NEPA had similar risks of developing metabolic syndrome as participants who exercised but had low NEPA levels.

A high NEPA level was associated with a 27 percent reduced risk for heart disease and a 30 percent reduced risk for all-cause death compared with participants with low NEPA levels.

The researchers found no association between NEPA and blood pressure.

The authors of this study concluded that a daily life with low-impact, non-exercise activities was associated with a healthier heart and a longer life, regardless of higher-impact exercise habits.

They suggested that older adults in particular could benefit from NEPA, as they are less likely to engage in high-impact exercise activities.

According to Rusty Gregory, a certified wellness coach, personal trainer and dailyRx Contributing Expert, "People of all ages have an improved sense of well-being from non-exercise physical activity. It acts as a stress-reducing, peace-generating, thought-producing, relaxation time that leads to better health. Positive feelings accompany the sense of accomplishment in non-exercise physical activities leading to greater self-worth."

The research was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on October 28. It was funded by grants from The Swedish Order of Freemason—Grand Swedish Lodge and various other foundations. The authors disclosed no competing interests.

Review Date: 
October 28, 2013
Last Updated:
October 30, 2013