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 551.

    So what your saying is other environmental factors/habits, genetics, your occupation and relationship problems can be far more detrimental than "inactivity". That's not twistying factsto suit my argument! Nuff said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    It gets ever so tedious to be told continuously that I'm not living my life how another deems that I should. From where and how I should work to where and how I should eat to where and how I should procreate. It's my life to take up or set down, and I pity the fool who thinks otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    Warning, warning!

    The Ministry of Health has spoken!

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    Two of the fittest people I ever knew died before they reached the age of 30. One died of a brain haemorrhage, the other a heart attack.

    The oldest guy I ever met was a 97 year-old alcoholic who smoked 60 a day.

    Seems to me the best way to stay alive longer is to ignore all this mamby-pamby advice about healthy lifestyle and go with the old addage:

    One life. Live it!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    @504. dds-qd: We do pay for our health choices. You think the NHS is free? Or undemocratic?

    No-one's stopping you going "private", if you feel you need that elective op tomorrow. As a consultant in the family once said, "Harley Street is full of people who couldn't make it in the NHS."

    How about NHS free at the point of service except for people who think it shouldn't be? Then everyone's happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    "The Lancet study found people in higher income countries were the least active"
    How come the same countries have longer life expectancies then?

    It is not just about exercise, it is about total environment.

    Stop the PC bullying please and let people enjoy their lives as they wish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    519. Simple Simon
    Why on earth would anyone want to exist to, or beyond, 85?
    Hugh Heffner looks pretty content......

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    Bob WEbster - "England works the longest hours in Europe". The country that works the longest hours in Europe is Greece. Britain is 13th in Europe.

    See OECD

    Get your facts right first. And while you're at it, get some exercise. You have no excuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    537.Robert Simpson
    He should tell that to the intelligent elite who'll look at him wondering why he spent his time chasing a ball rather than sitting, reading and learning something

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    501.Tio Terry
    I see it as the parents responsibility to feed their children,
    Healthy school meals are a way of ensuring all children get fed well regardless of the ability of their parents.
    I also plan to retire at a time of my own choosing - this I see as being down to my good fortune but many arent so lucky and legislation is needed to protect them from the capitalist hordes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    528. Boz Scaggs Fixx was a heavy smoker ( 2 packs a day ) prior to beginning running at age 36, he had a stressful occupation, he had undergone a second divorce, and his weight before he took up running had ballooned to 220 pounds (100 kg). And his father died of heart attack at 43.
    Several studies have shown the link between running and much lower mortality. Thats not cherry picked. Nuff said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    So doing nothing and getting fat is bad for you. Well you learn something new every day. Money well spent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    My issue is that I want to be more active. However, its so expensive. I appreciate I can go for walks etc, but that just doesn't happen - not enough variation. I looked up tennis, squash in my area and its £100s of pounds per year - same as Gyms. Can't we have cheaper options that offer variations and not just gyms. Cant have everything I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Sitting in an office for 8-9 hours a day as I do is awful for your health. This level of inactivity is bad for you mentally, physically, staring at a screen all days hurts your eyes - our society, the 9-5 grind of sitting in an office, is not how the world 'is' it is how we have made it, we can make it differently if we choose. But like that 5am run, it aint easy

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    Diddleypete said "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!"

    But then who would you have to feel superior to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    I was always indifferent to the plight of the smoker (though i do enjoy not having smoky clothes after going out), but now i fully back anyone that wishes to live how they want - drinking, smoking, recreational drugs, eating red meat and unhealthy foods, sitting around... everyone should do what they enjoy - let the puritans leave the island and move to America like they did before

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    I'm assuming that this will mean that there will soon be a sitting-down tax? Well, it worked for cigarettes didn't it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    It's time to Ban inactivity in public spaces...

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    On the bright side, if we're all so unfit or overwieght, more of us will die younger reducing the burden on pensions. Might even help the over population issue! (Tongue firmly in cheek).

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    All over the country there are Saturday morning "parkrun" events - these cater for runners, joggers and walkers and every week thousands of people join in. You get your progress recorded with every event so you can track your improvement rate and, best of all, it's for anyone and everyone (that includes wheelchair users) ... and it's free! Check out


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