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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  • Comment number 811.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.

    Technology Technology Technology.

    Technology is accelerating exponentially. The world in 2012 is a vastly different place to even 10 years ago. One would have predicted that this advancement would have improved our lives and "freed" up our time.

    However, iPhones, on demand TV, internet shopping, Facebook are paradoxically isolating us and turning our brains and bodies to a thick sludge

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    I am a British national living in Mexico and in Guadalajara we have the same initiative as in Bogota and the streets that are cordoned off are always full of walkers and bikers. Unfortunately I think a large contributor to this could be the climates that Mexico and Colombia share......I for one wouldn't be found strolling around the centre of London with the weather it has been having recently!

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    782. v49080

    In Greece we find the typical English (it is always the English) who MUST go running or cycling in the middle of the day, even in temperatures of 35 deg.C or more. Almost always without water, sun hat or salt. Corfu hospital keeps a ward just for these suicidal morons. Typically there are 2 or 3 deaths a year as a result.

    Ah! It was always thus! "Mad Dogs & Englishmen": Noel Coward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    Next thing they will tell us , is that actually being too healthy , isn't good for you.(hahaha ) ,in reaity it's all drivel isn't it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    Inactivity as bad as smoking.Goverment introduce,new measures,that require by law,furniture stores to conceal beds,chairs and sofas behind,blacked out store windows,so as not to induce children under 18,into a sedentary lifestyle.Just a thought,but many a true word spoken in jest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    Talk about stating the obvious. There's no excuses for a lack of exercise or poor diet, unless you don't care about being unhealthy and not looking as good as you could. There is more than enough time in the day for 10-15 minutes and maybe a longer session at the weekend. You don't need to be an "athlete" - it's basic care of your body.

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    If the beeb are expecting me to watch 1000's of hours of Olympic coverage from a sedentary (guess whose been watching democracy live) position, i want, no demand,a bonus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    Yet another from the Annual Epidemic of (Absurd) Medical Surveys. Not a hint of real evidence. The BBC is swamped with them. The usual technique is to first define your headline then try to find a little data to match

    Another far more reliable survey shows that the regular taking of vitamin tablets has a mortality rate similar to that of smoking. Why? - Unknown. But those pills are dangerous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 802.

    "This isn't going to go down well with the majority of the UK, ... mind you sloth is powered by apathy."

    Our apathy group has disbanded ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 801.

    inactivity - not as good as being active ,
    We didn't need a study to determine this.
    This is a non-story in comparison to what is happening both at home and worldwide.
    Todays HYS - this report , txt and a bollywood actor dies
    Whoever is deciding on content for HYS needs to get real

  • rate this

    Comment number 800.

    what if you dont like jogging, going to the gym, or cycling? If you want to do martial arts, play football, rugby, tennis, go shooting etc. it all costs money and finding time CAN be difficult. Its all very well to say "just run down the street, its free!" but if you dont want to then its not easy. Forcing people to do exercise arbitrarily is stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    The Bogota experiment would be against the Equality Act 2010. Anyone with a disability who was unable to walk or cycle would be stranded. Not everyone is actually able to exercise. A quarter of a million people in the UK have ME, where the cardinal symptom is being unable to exercise without suffering severe medical symptoms afterwards. This includes me - trust me, I'd love to be able to walk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 798.


    Maybe people are inactive because every activity they enjoy is now on a 'health' list of why you shouldn't do it/it shortens your life.

    AND I am not surprised this report coincides with the dreaded (well I do) Olympics. Just couldn't resist - could they!!

    BTW the longest living animals in nature are the slowest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 797.

    Good to see Professor Myang-Li from Brainiac doing some more worthwhile research. Good on you Professor!

  • rate this

    Comment number 796.

    I'm surprised most smokers haven't died already!...had a look the other day and @ £7.70+ I nearly had a heart attack meself! Doing exercise is not always just down to just being fit, it's your 'quality' of life...I run regularly, ok, but I eat what I want and when I want!!..and drink too much as well!! how's that not 'QUALITY'! of both worlds..simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 795.

    In response to the comments here about weight - I've always had slightly low blood pressure but was recently diagnosed with hypertension, even though I've always been below average weight and am 32. I put this down to doing no exercise whatsoever over the last 8 months while studying. Indicates to me that weight often has nothing to do with it - have now started jogging!

  • rate this

    Comment number 794.

    Oh yes and that 5.3 million people world wide! How could they possibly arrived at this figure? A world study of lazy people, hah hah. Give us a break. I liked the comment about meditating being bad for you too, hah hah. There is no truth in this article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 793.

    Given the recent pension outlook from my provider and the outlook for social care and other things in retirement I think I will just take up the fags again and stop exercising in the sure knowledge that a short miserable death would be preferred to a long miserable existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 792.

    "we need proper cycle lanes down the side of major carriageways."

    yes cyclists do, only because they do not know they are classed as a vehicle & should be following traffic regulations.


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