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 971.

    I don't dismiss the suffering of cancer, but what do you have to suggest that you wouldn't have been affected by it earlier had you not lead a healthy lifestyle? This article is pointing out the fact that we are becoming noticeably lazy and as a result we are no longer balanced beings.
    The original retirement age was based on avg. life expectancy, which is now over 80.
    Don't be a defeatist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    "The report, published in the Lancet to coincide with the build-up to the Olympics"

    Academic research published to co-incide with a sporting event.
    Who funded this research?

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    150 minutes is noting! I'll bet there's many a war veteren who has lost limbs on the battlefield who would love to go walking or biking, people don't know what they've got 'till it's gone - sheer bone idleness!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    945. JasonEssex
    If you've got evidence flu is caused by temperature not a virus you ought to claim your nobel prize. I can list the specific studies if you like? People sitting in freezers with rhino-virus literally dripped in their noses contract colds ( not flu I know but very similar virus) at the same rate as fully clothed volunteers in warm rooms.
    PS what the heck does disentising mean?

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    965 kitandrew
    Those of us who recognise this is common sense laugh about it. Those who don't won't take any notice anyway. And simply that is the problem with these surveys. How many parents have been told to stop feeding their kids junk food but still do? Another pointless research piece where the money should have been spent elsewhere. And I wonder how much these researchers get paid? sigh ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    another case of wowzing I see. Smoking is the bar one of the greatest achievements by man.
    The Indians offering a smoke to rival tribes was a great social occasion and peace offering. Smoking is great in moderation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the basic premise of the report, but when they talk about schools etc it is just lazy journalism...we are too quick to leave it to the experts but very quick to criticise them with little or no understanding of the job. We need to take responsibility for our own family and not blame others for our own shortcomings or failure of willpower.

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    963 JamesPredota
    except of course the largest cost to the country is on pensions and NHS for the elderly. I would be more inclinded to think they would would like to pump us of earlier!

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    Im inclined to believe that the powers that be just want us fit and healthy so we can toil harder for the reptillian overlords which we will eventually succumb to. Seems more plausible then them caring about our health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 962.

    956 Rotherham Lad
    Nope, my unit is called B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T. As an acronym.

    At least if i read it again i think so!

    And if that was a quote I didn't recognise it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.

    It reminds me of a verse in the Bible Genesis 3:19 "In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground." So we have to sweat it out no matter what technologies are available !
    This just a thought, not an interpretation, nor any intention of mine to teach anyone anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    951 herb
    But that would be a subject which might be a bit subjective. God knows that the BBC would ever allow us to know talk about an intelligent subject. HYS tom, Cheryl Cole and her new shoes. BBC saves £3.50 in reducing the milk bill. Syria signs up Simon Cowell for Syrias Got Talent. Fosters overtakes Stella as Brittains top lager. Sigh .....

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    Now, be honest: is that a lie, a damned lie, or something else?

  • rate this

    Comment number 958.

    "Exercise can... Help you to manage stress, anxiety and even depression"

    No it can't.

    One of the BBC's own articles only a couple of weeks reported that research had shown NO correlation between exercise and stress or depression relief...

  • rate this

    Comment number 957.

    Not necessarily a pointless "piece of research". However, I've known that inactivity causes all those illnesses, so it's no news to me. Yes, they are horrible conditions, and I can't imagine what it's like to have them. But, obviously if you are active and maintain a healthy lifestyle it doesn't mean that all chances of getting one of these problems goes - it just DECREASES your chances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 956.

    954 Rotherham Ltd
    "does box ticking qualify as exercise on anyone's research checklist?"
    I'm currently in the process of applying for a grant to determine that. I am a Head Researcher of a Bionary Unit of Legislation, Litigation, Solicitation, Harmony and Investigation Treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 955.

    Is this really news or just another rechurned story?

  • rate this

    Comment number 954.

    953: jasonessex

    Been there, seen it, done it, ticked the boxes!
    Just so that we don't go off topic, does box ticking qualify as exercise on anyone's research checklist?

  • rate this

    Comment number 953.

    950 Rotherham Lad
    Bureaucrats and big business.I've had the pleasure working for the government and believe me, you could get 50 unemployed people a good job but the paperwork is far more important.Get 10 people a job, and boxes ticked GREAT! I have mates who work for the home office, NHS,and education - helping people is less important than the paperwork and getting the "stats and tables" right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 952.

    I've nothing against people cycling but I do think a lot of them are currently doing it for image rather than exercise. I have my own pool so thats my form of exercise along with walking on the Downs. Can't drive a car in to my swimming pool, no access to it for big things.


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