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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Long-term health benefits of physical activity – a systematic review of longitudinal studies

Miriam Reiner1*, Christina Niermann2, Darko Jekauc2 and Alexander Woll1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Sport and Sport Science, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Engler-Bunte Ring 15, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany

2 Institute of Sport Science. University of Konstanz, Universitätsstr. 10, 78467 Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:813  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-813

Published: 8 September 2013



The treatment of noncommunicable diseases (NCD), like coronary heart disease or type 2 diabetes mellitus, causes rising costs for the health system. Physical activity is supposed to reduce the risk for these diseases. Results of cross-sectional studies showed that physical activity is associated with better health, and that physical activity could prevent the development of these diseases. The purpose of this review is to summarize existing evidence for the long-term (>5 years) relationship between physical activity and weight gain, obesity, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.


Fifteen longitudinal studies with at least 5-year follow up times and a total of 288,724 subjects (>500 participants in each study), aged between 18 and 85 years, were identified using digital databases. Only studies published in English, about healthy adults at baseline, intentional physical activity and the listed NCDs were included.


The results of these studies show that physical activity appears to have a positive long-term influence on all selected diseases.


This review revealed a paucity of long-term studies on the relationship between physical activity and the incidence of NCD.

Physical activity; Adults; Weight gain; CHD; Type 2 diabetes mellitus; Dementia; NCD