Physical activity was followed by improvements in other health-promoting behaviors – including nutrition, alcohol consumption, smoking, and stress –according to a new study published in British Medical Journal Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. The varied benefits of physical activity are well-known, but the new study by Vitality researchers – based on a cohort of over 34,000 Vitality members – found that those who engaged in verified physical activity also improved other healthy lifestyle behaviors. This points toward the possible virtuous cycle of physical activity and health.
“The analysis provides an important understanding of the degree to which physical activity serves as a trigger for other health behaviors” said Cother Hajat, Public Health Physician, Epidemiologist and lead study author.
“Changing a single health behavior is challenging and altering multiple behaviors simultaneously complicates matters to an extraordinary degree,” said Daniel Kotzen, Director of Product at Vitality Group and a study author. “While not proving a causative link, these results illustrate the promise of physical activity as a principal component of broader healthy behavior change.”
Individuals who began engaging in verified physical activity also experienced a statistically significant improvement in fruit and vegetable consumption from 2.7 to 2.9 servings; Kessler Stress Scores (a measure of anxiety and depression) from 17.4 to 17.0; sedentary hours from 11.3 to 10.8; alcohol consumption from 1.8 to 1.6 weekly units; hours of sleep from 7.1 to 7.2; and overall health scores measured as a function of an individual’s Vitality Age.
The research suggests that programs incentivizing healthy behavior change could benefit from using physical activity as the initial intervention. While technology is an important enabler of physical activity, it is important that wearable devices are accessible and are – ideally – paired with an incentive ecosystem that can drive and sustain improvements in behaviors. The efficacy of combining incentives with physical activity was explored in a study last year. The study of more than 400,000 people found an average 34% increase in activity levels with Apple Watch compared to those without – the equivalent of 4.8 extra days of activity per month – which Vitality estimates translates into two extra years of life.
Not only does physical activity have numerous important health benefits for individuals, but for the global economy. Additional research from Vitality and RAND Europe, found that if all working-age adults walked 15 minutes more a day, the world economic output could increase by $100 billion year on year.