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 531.

    You make the mistake of superimposing examples given by others upon the person. I cycle to work and have no problems. And I take offense at the mere idea of watching any Soaps.
    No, the examples I was giving are of people - namely children - stuck in inner city areas such as Glasgow.
    Would you let your child wander about in one of the most dangerous areas of Europe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    "With the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games... the world will be watching elite athletes from many countries compete in sporting events... most spectators will be quite inactive."

    I dunno. Every time I see England play I spend most of my time jumping up and down and gesturing angrily.

    Why not just not spend £10bn on the Olympics and spend it on providing fruit to children with their school lunch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    Episode 3:

    "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 it."

    And how about qualifying that with a brief list of the benefits of inactivity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    "James F. Fixx, who spurred the jogging craze with his best-selling books about running and preached the gospel that active people live longer, died of a heart attack Friday while on a solitary jog in Vermont. He was 52 years old."
    NT Times, July 22nd 1984.

    Nuff said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    I detest sport for reasons I won't bore you with. However, I'm active, weight normal(ish) and eat basic good food.

    What I do enjoy, as an activity, is randomly running on the spot at work, with or without a skipping rope. It scares the bejezeers out of smug gym loving fascists with their endless consumption of bottled water.

    Making love is a great activity too, but try to avoid smoking after!

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    An old chap I know living a few doors away is 94. I asked him his secret for a long life. He replied I quit smoking when I was 92!

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    'Darwin's Theory' applies
    as the phrase associated is 'the survival of the fittest'
    This certainly applies to modern living for those who choose not to be as active as others....they pay the penalty!...nevermind burdening the overstretched health service

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.


    Let us hope that when such eugenics laws are bought in, they make perfect grammar a requirement of "quality", then we can be rid of judgemental people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    Does this mean you can commit suicide by sitting down and having a fag, or smoking in bed? Roll on the asteroid!

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    Absolute rubbish.Another scare story to keep our minds off the shambles coming through about the olympics and the damage being done to the British way of life through mass immigration.Show me one death certificate that states the person died through inactivity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    I'm confused. When exactly did how much exercise I do become anyone's else's business?

    Fair enough, give some guidelines, but then let people make their choice and RESPECT it.

  • Comment number 520.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    I'd be happier dying even earlier, most of the way through an awesome steak, watching a decent film while drinking some good whisky. Why on earth would anyone want to exist to, or beyond, 85?

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    OK, the research mostly states the bleedin' obvious. But we have a real problem with obesity in this country and need to take action. I thought the Ciclovia case study in Bogota was fascinating. As a sometime walker/runner/cyclist, I know that heavy traffic can be a real deterrant. How many of our towns or cities would be brave enough to introduce this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    Well as long as chhildren have their school playing fields there is hope!!!

    Oh something is wrong with that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 516.

    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 know many HYS posters don't believe in the basic laws of physics (like creating energy from nothing) but you can apparently warp time too. A 7 day week with 24hrs per day is a 168 hour week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    @468.A Symons
    Where do you live? As far as I can see every town/city in the country has access to some parks relatively, so your point is moot.
    I quite often run on the road, in which case all you need is a pavement, do you have those nearby?
    Fine you don't have any friends, exercise on your own!
    It's just one excuse after another, just so you can watch eastenders rather than do something active

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    Here we go again........ Another tax

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    we now live in a convienience based society. To make excercise in public areas popular - first they have to be safe. They are not safe (in fact i dont feel safe walking to the local shops - let alone playing a game). recently you cant even fish safely. Citys are now horrible, and hence people turn to electronic entertainments, and get fat

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    This is ridiculous. This makes it seem as if smoking isn't as bad as it really is


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