Inactivity 'killing as many as smoking'


Report co-author Dr I-Min Lee: "Being inactive increases your risk of developing chronic diseases"

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A lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths as smoking across the world, a study suggests.

The report, published in the Lancet to coincide with the build-up to the Olympics, estimates that about a third of adults are not doing enough physical activity, causing 5.3m deaths a year.

That equates to about one in 10 deaths from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer.

Researchers said the problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.

And they said tackling it required a new way of thinking, suggesting the public needed to be warned about the dangers of inactivity rather than just reminded of the benefits of being active.

Exercise can...

Source: BBC health

The team of 33 researchers drawn from centres across the world also said governments needed to look at ways to make physical activity more convenient, affordable and safer.

It is recommended that adults do 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling or gardening, each week.

The Lancet study found people in higher income countries were the least active with those in the UK among the worst, as nearly two-thirds of adults were judged not to be doing enough.

Case study


From Monday to Saturday, the streets of the Colombian capital of Bogota are packed with cars.

The city - one of the largest in South America - is a teeming metropolis, home to more than seven million people.

But on a Sunday vehicles are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the streets are taken over by pedestrians and cyclists, thanks to Ciclovia, a traffic-free streets initiative run by the city authorities.

The scheme, backed by successive mayors, has been running in one guise or another since the mid-1970s.

It now covers nearly 100km of roads in the centre of the city on Sundays and public holidays.

But as well as making Bogota a quieter place to roam, the ban on cars also has a health benefit.

Research has shown about a million residents regularly walk around on a Sunday, a fifth of whom say they would be inactive if it were not for the ban on vehicles.

Dr Michael Pratt, who was involved in the Lancet research on physical inactivity, said the Bogota scheme was a "wonderful example" of how governments could be encouraging more exercise.

The researchers admitted comparisons between countries were difficult because the way activity was estimated may have differed from place to place.

Nonetheless, they said they remained confident that their overall conclusion was valid.

Pedro Hallal, one of the lead researchers, said: "With the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games, sport and physical activity will attract tremendous worldwide attention.

"Although the world will be watching elite athletes from many countries compete in sporting events... most spectators will be quite inactive.

"The global challenge is clear - make physical activity a public health priority throughout the world to improve health and reduce the burden of disease."

Prof Lindsey Davies, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, agreed.

"We need to do all we can to make it easy for people to look after their health and get active as part of their daily lives," she said.

"Our environment has a significant part to play. For example, people who feel unsafe in their local park will be less likely to use it."

But others questioned equating smoking with inactivity.

While smoking and inactivity kill a similar number of people, smoking rates are much lower than the number of inactive people, making smoking more risky to the individual.

Dr Claire Knight, of Cancer Research UK, said: "When it comes to preventing cancer, stopping smoking is by far the most important thing you can do."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    all this talk about exercise is making hungry....
    Seriously though, if you don't have a job that makes you move around, then walk to work or something.
    Also, I can tell you that it's more about conditioning than it is about vigorous exercise. Too much of one kind of exercise is just as bad as none. If you stay in shape (after you've gotten in shape), life will be a bowl of cherries

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    That assumes people live close enough to work to walk. And that one encounters stairs daily. To cook a meal and eat and digest is more than an hour and you've forgotten shift workers, nurses and others who do 12 hour days. you've left out errands and chores, childcare for those that have kids. Lastly that relaxation is important after all that

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Lack of time is the major issue with activity for me. I'd be happy to spend more time walking etc but it isn't realistic. As it is we never have time for the essentials like enough sleep. And just to be clear, no my time is not spend sitting around or watching TV - most days it doesn't even get switched on for the same reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    In line with the authoritarian thinking of nanny state and health experts, I propose that inactive people should be fined. Cameras in the home and garden could record periods of inacvtivity and fines issued on the net. Costs of running the scheme would be balanced by savings in healthcare. Alternatively, inactives should pay for their own health treatment.Mini-fit inspectors patrol streets -1984?

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.


    If people want to become fat, lazy and die let them!
    Even if they're thin and as fit as Usain Bolt, they will still die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    It's interesting how we always talk about the benefits of healthy living only in terms of longevity. The reason I keep fit and active is because it makes life more enjoyable NOW. Having a fit, able body means you can get out more, do more, and enjoy life more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    This is All A lie,Alcohol Not Only Kills the ones who use it,but others as well,I causes Murder,suicides,accidents,child and spousal abuse,and is THE BIGGEST CAUSE of ALL DISEASE COMBINED..It it worse than CRACK OR HEROIN.........Look it Up

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    The BBC will not tell it how it is so I will ..

    Socialists & Labour are very bad for you health.. millions sat on their backside guzzling Benefits..

    Dave & George good for your heath, unemployment down again getting them off theirs backside and into work..

    Actively working instead of dossing with Gezza beer & fags .. Tory party = healthy happy people..

  • Comment number 283.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Is it Ok to smoke whilst jogging ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    274. boomblastandruin

    ''In terms of time 24 hrs/d, 8 hrs work, say 2 hrs travel, 8hrs sleep, 1 hr getting ready for work, 1 hr for dinner = plenty of time to go for a walk''

    And I'll be damned if I'm using that spare 4 hours to go for a walk. I like to spend that precious time on silly, trivial things, like family and things I enjoy.

    Who cares. The only person who loses if I die young is HMRC

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    If innactivity is "as deadly as smoking" - why is smoking illegal in public places in the UK? Is this "anti-smoking" policy simply prejudice, or is this new study on innactivity a load of "rowlocks"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    And don't forget our government want to tax us healthy active people by targetting our health products... talk about a backward nation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Not exactly cutting edge is it! Continually sitting on one's derrière is hardly going to satisfy the body's need for action is it? What's next? Holding your breath under water for an hour could be detrimental to one's health? Or perhaps stepping under the wheels of a speeding lorry has been proved to shorten one's long term life potential. Please, do tell us something we DON"T already know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    So how does this relate to the recent research that suggests High Intensity Training (HIT) is at least as beneficial, if not more so, than regular traning activities having much longer durations?
    Is exercise duration time important, or is the kind and means of exercise moreso?

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    I think this is a self evident truth. The trick is to build exercise into your daily life, not regard it as an add on. Don't ride when you can walk, take the stairs not the lift. Do a bit of vigorous house work and gardening. Keep your weight under control and you'll feel more like doing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    All you did was list excuses.... I live in a city and can still walk places - I don't know anywhere in the UK that doesn't have pavements apart from the countryside where you can walk through fields etc. Exercise can be pretty boring I'd agree but it doesn't really matter if you don't enjoy it - I don't but I still walk places and go to the gym once a week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    I'm a masters student in physical activity. Lack of time or money are the most common reasons for not being active but moderate activity includes things like walking to work or climbing stairs instead of lifts so needs no expensive equipment. In terms of time 24 hrs/d, 8 hrs work, say 2 hrs travel, 8hrs sleep, 1 hr getting ready for work, 1 hr for dinner = plenty of time to go for a walk

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Daft thing is most people know that smoking and inactivity are bad for them, but do nothing about it and then incur NHS and social care costs that could have been avoided.

    Yes I'm a 'health nazi'.

    But I don't tell anyone what to do with their life, it's up to them. I just tell them the consequences of not changing. And the list of excuses as to why they can't do it is also good for a laugh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Smoking does not increase your overall chance of dying, nor does inactivity. As far as I know, we ALL have a 100% chance of dying. It's just a question of how much you enjoy life while you're living it.

    Rather 50-60 years of fun than 150 years of gruel eating, North Korean style morning excersise and misery.


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