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 511.

    Just a thought what's the average age of house of lords members?they don't seem that active.

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    Well lets hope the lazy so and so's pass away quickly & leave more resources for the rest of us. They are obviously wasters & so bring nothing to the party. The human race should be about quality not quantity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    I'm not sure how they can be sure inactivity is causing deaths. Clearly there is a correlation, however as mankind has advanced life expectancy has increased at the same time inactivity has increased. If people live longer there is more chance of people developing cancer, not to mention the environment is riddled with pollutants and most foods contain dubious chemicals

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    Why do you want a Gym? Why do you want a park? You did PE (or PT) at school. Whats wrong with doing a set of vigorous exercises in the comfort of your home. I'm an octogenarian and do a 45 minute workout every morning and am as fit as the proverbial fiddle. Feel good too. It's the endorphins that are released. Of course if depression is your problem you must get out - every day and take a walk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    I work hard, I pay my taxes and NI and I've never claimed benefit in my life.

    Why is my choice of sofa or park, cinema or cycle ride, watching football rather than playing anyone elses business?

    By the way, buying good healthy fruit and veg IS expensive, we spend a fortune on it. I could feed my family for far less if they were to live on fish fingers and oven chips......shudders!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    Valid point to a degree. When you say look at Europe, perhaps you might consider that much of Europe's infrastructure was destroyed in WWII, so the newly built roads, layout etc make it far easier to cycle than the mish-mash of roads in this country, which are often legacies from pre-war and even Victorian times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    @ 481.Portman - fantastic, and the best thing is we wouldn't need cars at all in this crime free utopia you describe, we would all be able to gaze down in wonderment and joy from our flying pigs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    I wish those who are blathering on about health nazis and similar inflammatory slogans would be forced to pay for their own poor health choices: for myself, I think the report gives only a partial account of what is most dangerous: often, along with activity, diet and other lifestyle issues need changing as well - a total change in attitude, thinking, and behaviour, in fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    "its free to run" "just exercise on the florr" "buy a bike"
    why? what if those are things people DONT ENJOY *gasp* yeah thats right, i said it - some people just dont enjoy running - maybe a sport, like tennis or football? Oh wait, here comes the time and cost barrier. some of the exercise freaks here seem to be ignoring individual interests and needs

  • Comment number 502.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    I see it as the parents responsibility to feed their children, not the school. Agree with you over school playing fields. Dont agree that the government should build more leisure facilities, thats a Commercial Activity for the Private Sector. I work what hours I want, I dont need a directive. I will retire when I want, nobody tells me when.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    I'd rather die as an independent 75 year old than a decrepit 90 year old rotting in a nursing home.

    Anyone who does a moderate amount of exercise will be ok, we all know this.

    People who are fat and unfit generally know it, regardless of government approved information campaigns.

    This constant scaremongering is a waste of public money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    Here we go again!! Another tedious scare story. What next?? Cutting toenails causes global warming? Earwax is a killer??

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    AndyC555: I hope you haven't lived in London all your life, because you are missing out on a lot if you think that walking in a park / along a road and doing sit-ups are sufficient for physical+mental health.

    Perhaps you'll do as many lazy Londonners: retire early and buy a cottage out in the country. At least then you can enjoy a healthy, relaxing walk and good air - and you'll feel less grumpy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    150 minutes is NOTHING, just over 2 hours, I can't believe so few adults manage that a week. I currently do 420 hours of ballet every week"

    I'm guessing maths isn't a requirement for a ballet dancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    Lucky Labour aren't still in power, otherwise they'd be putting tax on arm chairs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Having enough excercise is about lifesytle choices as much as anything else, but the government could help - investing in public transport - higher taxes on junk food etc unfortunately most of the people that profit from this country's unhealthy lifestyle have very powerful lobby groups.. afraid it is up to the indivdual to make do the best they can..

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    So if inactivity is as bad as smoking does this mean I will be able to label people who sit down at work as violent, drunken chavs, petty thieves, brain dead, ignorant child abusers and declare that my taxes shouldn't pay for their NHS treatment? Or would that make me as pompous and self righteous as the people on HYS who say the same about smokers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    My college recently stopped running SIX out of it's eight football teams due to lack of funding. During the summer,every local football pitch (there are about 20 of them) takes their goalposts down, and they are fenced off the rest of the year. The local 5-a-side facility costs around £4 for a half-an-hour game - if you're lucky enough to get a turn. At least the toddlers have a new park though..

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    I excercise when I get the opportunity, unfortunatley I spend six days a week, thirteen hours a day on average at work. So when do I get the opportunity to exercise? I would love to change my job, unfortunatley it costs a lot of money and time to change your job of which I have neither. Why have some of us got jobs that have no work life balance, yet unemployment is sky high. Job sharing please.


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