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 591.

    Bit sick of people moaning that they 'can't afford' to keep fit – when did parks start charging for you to kick a ball about? Is is not free to ride your bike on the road? Are you being charged to jog along pavements? Stop making excuses and get out there! I'm pretty fit and active I've never paid a penny to a gym.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    I know the risks of a lack of exercise......... I just like cake more.

    I do get fed up of being told that the 'message of obesity isn't getting through'. Do so-called scientists ever consider that maybe the message did get through, people understand the risks and accept the consequences? I know I do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    Yes lets all go cycling so instead of dying of a coronary in your 50s you die under the wheels of a lorry in your 30s.

    Yes exercise is good for you (shock horror) but lets be a bit less morbid please. Everyone dies eventually, if someone enjoys being inactive then let them.

    But if I was to point a finger, I would look at the rise in sports spectating vs the (hypothetical) fall in participation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    why dont the bbc just encourage people to have more sex?? surely thats better than a plain old walk!! plus you would have many more happy people in the world and deffinatly a few more happier folk on here!

    instead of "inactivity, killing as many as smoking"

    try "have more sex you will live longer"

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    Problem again for many of us is time, as it is with anything. Many of us work long hours in the office (what price work-life balance?), get home late and have to cook a meal because the options at work are sandwiches or salad, exercise goes because we are too tired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    stop posting
    you should be out exercising

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    I'll agree with those saying it's too expensive. At council recreation centres around me it's nearly £10 for 55 minutes of badminton or 40 mins of squash, plus recently they've all started charging for car parking.

    Why is it not massively subsidised? if doing fun activities was more accessible, more people would do them, people would be healthier and therefore, less problems for the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    @ 52.Arzanni: "If people perceive life as comfortable while sitting on the sofa eating chips who are you to order them out into the rain to walk like zombies for hours"

    I'm a taxpayer who has to cover the cost of keeping their bloated behinds alive when their arteries start clogging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    So it's clear that a lot of people don't like being reminded that their lifestyles may be unhealthy yet many of these same posters would moan like hell about a struggling NHS if it turned out to be tomorrow's HYS topic.

    It seems it's the responsibility of your GP and David Cameron to look after your health and not yours.

    The great British public!

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    @459 avalon
    £25/per month is expensive if you are earning minimum wage or have a family to keep, or are families to take turns in using the membership?! At those prices a family of four would be £100 per month out of the reach of most families in these days of austerity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    @440 Sean

    Reducing the weight limit on our roads would increase costs to the consumer and put more smaller vehicles on the road. You cannot crush supply and demand so easily.

    If you want better quality of life move to the countryside, I heartily recommend it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    Genes play a greater part in long lives than father was physicaly active and died of a brain aneurysm at age 56 my husbands father was not physically active and lived till 94 ...i run 10 miles a day and will most likely die on the bloody treadmill of exhaustion , husband works 12 hours days hes too knackered for exercise...

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    Population growth out of control; an ageing population; the welfare state unable to cope. Surely it is in the interest of the rest of us if lazy people die young.

    Even the fittest people die eventually and require the same expensive medical care as those described in this article. Encourage the slobs to eat lard and vegetate in front of the TV, I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    551. Boz Scaggs
    Really? So ignoring statistical evidence and highlighting a single persons heart attack to prove a point which is wrong is not twisting the facts?
    Get a book on medicine and stats and perhaps you will see that choices reduce risk they do not eliminate it ( especially if you have already put yourself at massive risk) for most people there is a clear benefit to exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    2 Hours ago
    "Where in the bible does it say we should exercise?"

    err... It is pretty well covered...


  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    I have suffered from T cell Lymphoma for 5 Years,and with the steroid treatment,and certain blood pressure tablets. I have now been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, not the lack of exercise. Regular travelling 80 miles to St Thomas hospital in London was my way of being fit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    Here's an inconvenient truth: we all have to die of something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    I think you can't overstate the health benefits of having a good pooh every day. Possibly twice a day if you're feeling flamboyant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    Whats are all these nanny state/PC comments about? The study has highlight a trend which helps explain our biology and environment, would you rather not know? Nothing is stopping you having a drink or a smoke. I think the environmental issues are important here, why people not getting enough exersise, green space etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    I wonder what will be the next piece of bleeding obvious advice, will be !

    Perhaps, it will be - remember people always go to the toilet , when you have to, and don't , I say don't try to hold it in , because you are a lazy ********** and can't be bothered to get up off your **** , because if you do , it will be bad for you! OK ? ....Gooooood!


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