Physical activity in the prevention of the most frequent chronic diseases: an analysis of the recent evidence

Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2007 Jul-Sep;8(3):325-38.


Background: Physical activity is widely recognized as a means for the primary prevention of chronic diseases as well as in patients' treatment and rehabilitation. Moreover, activity has beneficial effects on an individual's health and well-being. Despite the benefits of regular physical activity, the percentage of physically inactive adults in the world is high. Environmental and policy approaches aimed to increase physical activity require continual stress of the epidemiological evidence from studies investigating disease mechanisms as well as controlled clinical trials.

Purpose: To update the evidence that physical activity/exercise is important for reducing the chronic diseases (cardiovascular and heart, diabetes, cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, and fall-related injuries, depression and emotional stress) and for mechanisms that may operate in the relation between physical activity and a disease risk.

Methods: Research studies published from 2004 through to March 2007 were identified through a review of the literature available on the NLM PubMed, Medline, Current Contents, and Elsevier-Science Direct databases.

Results: Recent evidence on physical activity/exercise and reduction of chronic major diseases incidence and rehabilitation of patients replicates previous findings. The strongest evidence exists for colon cancer, breast cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. The maximal magnitudes of the risk reduction reported were: 75% for breast cancer, 49% for cardiovascular and heart diseases, 35% for diabetes, 22% for colorectal cancer. Increased physical activity also prevented the weight gain associated with aging at least 2-times greater in individuals who were more active compared with those who were inactive. Limited new findings has been reported for the beneficial role of physical activity in fall-related injures, depression and emotional distress.

Conclusion: Recent evidence confirms previous findings that engaging in moderate physical activity is very important for the primary prevention of chronic diseases, decreasing all causes of mortality and that exercise is one of the determinants for physical and psychological well-being. The current evidence provides further support that physical activity can suppress concentrations of 17 alpha-estradiol in women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Chronic Disease / prevention & control*
  • Depressive Disorder / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control