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 871.

    This obviously a case for immediate state intervention. Come on Cameron, act like a socialist. Everyone sould be required to exercise according to government instructions. No beneits for the inactive. Green socialism will require everyone working the land by hand without technology. Action to save the planet and the people. Over to Chairman Mao.

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    Just now
    If you didn't know better you'd swear that the BBC are under orders not to report/discuss anything of immediate relevance to the uk.
    Like corrupt politicians, snooping, banks, royalty, being under the US thumb, utility providers, olympics, businesses, why we have 25% of the world's cctv etc. etc. etc.
    Tomorrow - To Tweet or not to Tweet ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    Our company offers $250/year for employees who wish to buy exercise equipment or gym memberships. It's enlightened self-interest: you get happier employees, & lower insurance rates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    "With the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games, sport and physical activity will attract tremendous worldwide attention."
    Around where I live in Surrey the cycling event will be held. It seems lots of people have caught the "Bike Bug" and every Sunday you see them in their Lycra outfits with their expensive bikes. A lot are standing by the roadside or pushing them up hills looking pretty tired!

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    I'm totally for free choice. No-one is nannying you. They are just giving you the well researched facts. If you don't like them, don't read them. If you don't want to follow the advice, don't bother. If you don't care that you might die early, don't expect us to care either, we don't. But don't try your lame sideways excuses, or try to debunk the facts just because you can't face up to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    The health fascists won't relent until we all jspend our free time jogging down to the local gym for an intense workout followed by a night in a smoothie bar sniffing oxygen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    @863 Phil Davies

    Now thats funny!! Thanks Phil :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    Pedro Hallal, one of the lead researchers, said: "With the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games, sport and physical activity will attract tremendous worldwide attention.
    But you MUST have a VISA Card
    Its got to be McDonalds
    The food barons have monopoly on the competition.
    At the minimum wage can you afford to go?
    You probably have to be wealthy to afford to go.

    Its all about money and GREED not fitness.

  • Comment number 863.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    Be realistic too. My mother walks quite a lot but I assume must have a really poor diet as she's seriously overweight - but insists that because she walks she's fit.

    Diet and exercise both, we know this, just do it ... ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.


    "If we cure everything and stop all wars , the population of the world will explode. "

    That's if you don't explode first.

    By the way, you don't have to pay attention to the advice been given us. You are an adult. You are not being dictated to.

    I see that you regard yourself happy. Long may you remain so. I hope your death is not preceded by years of suffering and illness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    We need to laugh more!

    We all have an opinion of what is right/wrong and don't require being reminded continually (especially about the wrong bits).

    George Burns who died when he was 98/9 smoked 15+ cigars each day (that he admitted to). A very PC woman, in an open interview, stood up and asked him what his doctor thought about him smoking ....Burns said "I don't know, he's dead."


  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    is 150 minutes a week brisk walking really enough? For many people, that's just the equivalent of walking to and from work every day as opposed to taking the bus.

  • Comment number 858.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    Yeah right. Only children in the smoke - london - have 5x the respiratory problems than others, allegedly.
    Not going to harrass the oil-co.s though are we!
    Again, this is a pile of offal presented as news, by the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    I noticed the link re near the sea - Well im a 40something 25 stone happy alone guy and a freelancer and live by the sea and happy being single and i dont need do gooders, patronising fools dictating how i run my life thank you very much.

    If we cure everything and stop all wars , the population of the world will explode . So you can have it both ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    Great! Now New York's Mayor Bloomberg will outlaw park benches

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    @696 Nic121: 'Some people are just happy enjoying life by eating/drinking/smoking as they please, and only get bothered about it when some busy-body tells them what they are doing is 'wrong'.'

    No, the professionals are telling us it's bad for us, not that it's wrong. Stop playing the poor maligned victim - you might actually feel better if you get off your butt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.


    "Awesome so now we can reduce some of the tobacco tax intake by charging companies who employ 9-5 desk staff higher NI right?"


    Smoking increases your chances of dying early every time you light up or passively inhale. Having a sedentary job doesn't kill you. Not making the effort to be moderately active when your not working is a personal choice, not the employer's fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    474.Celtic Cry Baby

    You forgot the fried mars bars.


    "How do you conclude that a person's death was due to 'inactivity'?"

    You can't directly. Just as you can't directly conclude that someone died of smoking, over eating or drinking.

    What you can do is refer to statistics that correlate such factors with morbidity and mortality, then refer to medical literature and common sense.


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