Sedentary lifestyle can kill

 

Lack of exercise is causing as many deaths around the world as smoking, according to the research

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The world is just days away from the greatest global showcase of elite sport.

But while a few thousand athletes will be pushing their bodies to the limit, most of the world will be watching on TV, sitting inactive for hours on end.

In a series of articles in the Lancet timed to coincide with the Olympics, researchers from 16 countries set out the scale of the health burden created by physical inactivity. You can read more about the research here.

The scientists say they are neither Olympics kill-joys nor are they advocating punishing gym sessions. As Pamela Das from the Lancet puts it: "It is not about running on a treadmill, whilst staring at a mirror and listening to your iPod."

There's nothing wrong with going to the gym of course, but the aim is to encourage everyone to build physical activity into their daily lives, such as by walking, cycling, swimming, gardening or doing any sport they enjoy.

The trouble is, all that sounds familiar. We all know we should move more and sit less.

Despite that, one in three adults worldwide fails to do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week. In the UK two out of three adults don't manage it. The guidance is here.

So rather than stressing the health benefits of exercise, the Lancet researchers have opted to show the harm caused by inactivity. They estimate lack of exercise is responsible for about 5.3m deaths a year - about the same number as smoking.

This is based on estimates of the impact on inactivity on coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and two specfic cancers - breast and bowel - where lack of exercise is a major risk factor.

There are some weaknesses in the data. The scientists have had to rely on the results of questionnaires sent out to 122 countries in which people self-report their levels of activity. It must also be difficult to separate the disease burden of obesity from the figures.

But Dr I-Min Lee, Harvard Medical School, says they were very cautious: "Our estimates of ill-health from lack of physical activity are, if anything, on the low side."

The outlook for the next generation seems bleak. A staggering four out of five 13-15 year olds globally do not do the recommended 60 minutes of activity every day.

The researchers say the problem of inactivity has reached pandemic levels, with far-reaching health, economic, environmental and social consequences. They call for a radical re-think in how to deal with the issue.

But rather than simply focusing on the bad, I prefer to emphasise the good, or rather the benefits of being active. As Dr I-Min Lee put it to me, "Everything that gets worse when we get older, gets better when we exercise."

 
Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    Is exercise in our depressed and depressing society and cultural with its marked divisions of possibility and awareness a privilege of class - the upper-middle and upper classes and a possibility for those with time and money and incentive based on background a positive outlook on life?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    Battling obesity is a monumental task &1 deserving of support (including positive support of those struggling to drop weight).But don't forget to address all underlying reasons.Overeating can be an addiction &a coping crutch.Mental therapy&Honesty abt traumas need to be factored in.Bullied people overeat/drink.Also endocrine diagnostics now more precise.Screen for Thyroid&Adrenal&Liver function.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    15, Dortman: I appreciate the nuance. Programmes can be watched standing up or on an exercise device, too. What I see in UK & EU, though, is people Sitting, Smoking, Drinking (sugary or strong drink) all at once. Salty greasy pizza now preferred food. In Calif, leading companies introduced workplace gyms alongside workplace child care centres.This drove a great shift.So did fight againstTobacco.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    Nothing matters more thanHealth.The latest on Alzhmr's is v.impt: origins lie in inflammation (infection),immunoglobulin may prove to be The Cure.This has implications for future govt budgets & should be greeted with huge relief.Bronchial infections also need to be addressed&these are commonly neglected, esp in kids; they are significantly worse when smokers present.Smoking is preventable&costly.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    13. Maria Ashot - I don't mean "your" as in you personally, I mean "your" as in people that do sit in front of the TV directly and indirectly encouraging their kids to do the same then and later in their lives.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18829131

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    At 60, MrA finally quit smoking for good, but he started at 14 & peaked at 1 daily pack for 20 yrs.He was nicotine-free for about 5 yrs from 40, then I foolishly treated him to a cigar after a big success.He made friends via cigars & they mutually worked themselves up to 2-3 stogies daily...then he had a heart attack at 54.He cut back to 1C/day. Meanwhile the rest of us breathed the 2ndhand smoke!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    Dortman, 12: You could not be more wrong & that is precisely what is harmful abt this incendiary headline. For the record, I am indeed very active & so are my kids as we have lived for years without an automobile by choice -- even in California. But to pretend it is OK for my mate to smoke cigars daily "because he also goes to the gym" (where he mostly sits in the sauna) is going to do more harm.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 12.

    "8. Maria Ashot You sitting doesn't kill others"


    Well it probably does kill your kids, or at least shorten their lives.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 11.

    Mens sana in corpore sano

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    So how long till a ban on TV in public places?

    Passive TV watching is the new Evil!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 9.

    What is the concrete evidence that lack of exercise causes cancer? Cancer is a molecular/genetic disease where faults in DNA strands develop and proliferate. Exercise s blood flowing and is a good thing. Tying it up to cancer encourages disbelief in its benefits.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    It is indeed vital to health to be active. Drive less, walk more, play with the kids.However, the declaration by this "Dr Lee" that "inactivity is as deadly as smoking" is dangerous drivel. Knowing something of US academia,I am inclined to believe Big Tobacco will love her & this crazy news headline.Tobacco affects gestation.Passive smoking leads to asthma & cancer.You sitting doesn't kill others.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    As usual, the point about evolution is wrongly stated. They don't die before they have reproduced, and it's a reasonable guess that the lesser physical fitness discussed here leads to higher 'reproductive fitness'. It's inexorable decline for the human race- the 'western' type at least.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 6.

    The key issue in Britain, compared to other European countries, is that the religious cult with regard to the car determines that people must drive in order to establish their status. Cycling and walking are permissible as leisure activities but certainly not for transport. I have been sacked for cycling to work. I would never do so again in this country but would do so elsewhere in Europe.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    "60 minutes of activity every day".

    Is all the time one is not actually sitting down or asleep 'exercise'? If so I am well over what is suggested, almost twice over. It's not clear if I am over-doing things. A recent TV programme suggested that one only needed 3 minutes exercise three times per week. It's all so confusing that I feel a sit-down coming on.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    i've just been issued a wheelchair due the symtoms of m.s. my local pct don't endorse hydrotherapy as useful exercise - what am i to believe? exercise or not?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    Exercise was once a natural aspect of everyday life, people walked longer distances out of necessity, not recreational choice. Now, exercise is almost considered a recreational evil by some, so much so, they need to take coercive measures just to stomach the will to do it. Like expensive gyms and gadgets, and the hiring of personal trainers like many people I know. Crazy!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    Its human evolution: the greedy and lazy develop more diseases and die younger and unless society collapses and we return to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, nothing is going to change.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    This is hardly surprising as our physiology evolved to cope with very physical demands.

 

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