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 491.

    The best thing that could be done is to improve the cycle paths in the UK. I appreciate we have hundreds of thousands of miles of it in the UK, but not much is joined up. If it were, people would cycle more, especially with the cycle to work schemes already in place. I already cycle to work, but have been knocked off many times, which is why other people don't. Just an idea. Look at Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    What about cycle lanes that are not half baked attempts that discourage people here. Proper safe ones as in Sweden or Holland..

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    I can think of nothing worth giving up. that would extended my life to the point where I was forced to endure a decade or so being shoved into some dilapidated ( care home )
    To be spoon fed tasteless slop and be abused and mistreated by disinterested staff more concerned with x-factor come sweet death come !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    As a kid, went down the park, had a 'kick about'. As a single man, late 40's, they’re 3 main problems to this.
    I've no friends to go & ask to come out to play. They're all married. A 40 something man asking to have a kick about with the kids down the park, people think yr weird. If I did have a kick about with the kids, I'm so unfit now, trying to keep up with em, likely to give me a coronary!

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Each day I can come up with many reasons why I shouldn't run/walk/cycle to work or the supermarket, or to the city centre.

    Each day, I override them and just do it. And yes, I live in one of the "lesser desirable" cities and travel into the "lesser desirable" areas.

    Don't be afraid of the world outside of the car.

    Trust me, people are basically nice. It's not "us" and "them". It's us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486. you have a Passport
    It's your personal choice (obviously) but it is good to loose the gut"

    See, you're confused too - you have the problem with fatties, not sedantary people. Like i posted before, there are plenty of sendatary and lazy people that ARENT fat who enjoy their lifestyles. I dont have a gut, therefore my inactivity is of no concern

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    First they went after the smokers, and we looked away. Then they went after the obese, and we looked away. Then they started on the drinkers, and we looked away. Now they are after the lazy couch potato .... Hey!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    People are willing to make excuses about why they can't exercise but if they put as much effort into looking after themselves, maybe the nations health would improve!

    NHS stats predict 50% of the UK will be obese by 2030. Do people really need to be told they're unhealthy?

    Anytime I start putting on weight, I cut back on the bacon sarnies, drink less beer and walk to work instead of bussing it

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    We are living in The Nexus Age, the coincidence of negative forces. This is but one aspect of the nexus. You can add the myriad others to make up your own list.

    We need to re-think. Fast. Drop the Grab-All-You-Can society and build the Be-All-You-Can-Be alternative. End the mad and unsustainable consumer growth-based economic model and re-learn the joys of sharing, caring and community.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    444.Sixp - Why should they? Your health is your responsibility...go outside and take a walk (it's free!) and work some of the fat off that lazy brain of yours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Pedestrianise residential roads and town centres. Anywhere where people live and play should be free of cars. Drive cars to the fringe and ring roads of our lives. Licence limited numbers of rickshaws for the old, infirm and terminally lazy. People will know each other again, crime will reduce, community will be re-born, kids playing in the walkway, more hours of exercise guaranteed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    How do you conclude that a person's death was due to 'inactivity'?

    You certainly won't find it on a death certificate, and you cannot prove that cancers, diabetes etc wouldn't have occurred if the person was more active.

    A correlation? Perhaps, but there is no way you can make accurate statistics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    A friend of mine used to like walking round the local green spaces. A neighbour of his rang the police and said he was behaving suspiciously. The police arrived, he was handcuffed and arrested, then his DNA was taken. He was then released without charge as the police were just trawling for DNA. Unfortunately he is an ex soldier with PTSD. Now he doesn't like to go out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    quote: The assumption here is that people want to live a long "active" life rather than a shorter sedentary one. Ditto re smoking.
    That is one of the highest rated comments? I know the government is terrible and there are a lot of problems but I wouldn't rather be dead. If people want a healthy life they can do it even with the political problems in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Those saying they work so hard there's no time to exercise: but somewhere you still found time to read and comment on this article? Sounds more like a choice.

    30 minutes of brisk walking every day will fulfill 150 minutes per week. 3 10-minute walks should also work if that schedules better.

  • Comment number 476.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    You do 17 and a half days worth of ballet in a week? You aren't too good at maths, are you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    Well that's your average Glaswegian stuffed then - 8 hours in front of telly every day, 4 cans of tennants and 20 fags.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    With the country so overrun with humans as it is, surely letting the lazy die out is one way of keeping control on the population. If a lion doesnt stay fit and healthy it cannot catch its food so it dies.... is this not the same thing??

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    Perhaps the Government should ban sitting in public buildings, these people would then have to continue their disgusting habit just outside the entrance, each sitting in their own throne of death......


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