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 39.

    @ 29.Frainy93rd:

    You're neglecting the years of quality life the exercise adds. You could be sedentary and have diabetes by 60 and alzheimer's by 70 but live to 80. But what kind of life? Or you could be active and remain healthy until you die of something unavoidable at age 80 anyway. But that's 20 extra years of 'quality' life gained over your diabetic, dementia suffering sedentary alter-ego.

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    Comment number 38.

    Working in F.E. with 16-18 year old youths, I'm astonished by their appalling diet. Vast amounts of sugary drinks are consumed along with sweets and fast food. However, few of these calories are ever burned in useful effort as very few will cycle the average 5k to college and only their thumbs take exercise. It appears to me that the increase in life expectancy will peak soon and rapidly decline.

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    Comment number 37.

    Green tea helps support a diet for those that embark on calorie reduction & need something to maintain energy & soothe them. But the best version of green tea is White Tea -- the very youngest leaf.There are some brands that have a fresh taste with no bitterness at all. I have also been drinking Hawthorne Berry Tea which is remarkably good for circulation.Putting time into research &friends helps!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 36.

    What's in the radical rethink? Problem is easy; solution is hard. Outdoor activity these days can be risky - kidnapping. assault, bullying. Indoor activity must change - like dancing when you hear music, set up obstacle courses changed daily, post slogans like: "Everything that gets worse when we get older, gets better when we exercise."

  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    Outlook for next generation seems bleak. A staggering 4/5 13-15 year olds don't do recommended 60 minutes of activity every day.
    And why not?
    TV & Internet Games are far more fun. Social Network is much more fun. Even sleeping is far more fun! Eating all things not good for you is far more fun!
    But in some countries, the solution has been to close youth centres for the sake of austerity.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 34.

    Though I never sent a comment on this article, I got a rejection; if I hadn't been so sedentary I might not have seen it.
    Humor aside, of course exercise, movement is good for your circulation, but if you combine this with over-sized portions of even the right foods, smoke (like I do), drink to excess, don't expect to outlive your parents.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 33.

    Obesity doesn't happen overnight; won't end overnight. Important not to give up. Get network support to overcome feelings of hopelessness... Even if you gain some weight back, keep trying to control your diet. Movement is impt: a top workout is Dancing. No training needed, no shoes or gear needed, not even music. Start by swaying in private, moving arms, tapping feet. Don't be afraid to change.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 32.

    30: I feel for you. My older brother has had the same problem for the past 25 yrs as an IT expert. He was skinny until 20, though, then grew muscles working physically, then got the desk job & a 3-martini lunch habit. (It's rarely just "sitting.") At its worst, he was 5'6" &~400lbs.He did lose 200 lbs just walking&dieting.Took12mos.Walked after work, 1 hr daily. Regained 100, but still better off.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    One thing I can honestly say I will not be doing is sitting watching the Olympics.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 30.

    I absolutely agree that a sedentary lifestyle can kill. I am in my late 40s & have a very sedentary job. The chance to get up & walk around a bit just isn't there except at lunchtime.
    I have put on a huge amount of weight & have bad osteoarthritis of the knees. Because of the arthritis, it is difficult to exercise so I can't do much after work either. It's a vicious circle.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 29.

    Another point to consider is how much longer are we expected to live if we exercise versus how long would we need to spend exercising throughout our life time.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    What doesn't really add up is that two thirds of the UK don't exercise enough yet life expectancy continues to rise causing a major strain on our pension pots. So is not exercising enough really that bad for us or is the issue really obesity - i.e. people who don't exercise enough are more likely to be overweight?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 27.

    So people who are CAPABLE of exercise - and WILLING to answer questions about it - live longer.

    That doesn't establish cause and effect. Some people can't exercise because they're already unwell or dying. Why not ask WHY some people exercise and why others don't?

    People who take cough medicine are more likely to have a cough. Let's not overlook obvious conclusions.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 26.

    It really is a matter of common sense and "mens sana in corpere sano" does sum it up. As physical creatures we need to use our bodies but we've been sold a variety of machines which reduce our effort. I continue to use the machines of my father's generation: push mower, hand shears, fork and spade and, most importantly, the bicycle. I have regular, useful exercise and never go near a gym

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    Comment number 25.

    Being cynical ,I do not think we can expect to see any government action on this front , apart from general mutterings. Simple reason it is too difficult to tax inactivity. One can tax smoking, drinking, carbon dioxide but taxing people doing nothing ? too hard, mind you I would bet there is somebody in Treasury working on it even as I write.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    I've met someone who thought that exercise was bad for you.
    Alan

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 23.

    Move more, sit less, and regularly do something more intense (playing sport, running, cycling, swimming etc). Simples!

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    Comment number 22.

    17.Maria Ashot - the sugar and food lobby is probably actually stronger than the tobbacco lobby ever was.

    These series of programs are an eye opener:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jxzv8

    Should be on the BBC iplayer I imagine.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 21.

    L.A.Odicean - Anything you do that is not sitting/lying down will raise your calorie consumption above rest and help maintain energy balance in the short term, and stave off weight gain in the longer term. The more moving you do the better from this perspective. However, for some of other health benefits you may need to add in something more intense (i.e., jogging, cycling etc).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 20.

    @ bertsprockett #9

    Concrete evidence is always difficult to come across but attributable risk is a different thing. This page contains info on studies showing the link between physical inactivity and certain types of cancer:

    http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/causes/lifestyle/physicalactivity/

 

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