Sedentary lifestyle can kill


Lack of exercise is causing as many deaths around the world as smoking, according to the research

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The world is just days away from the greatest global showcase of elite sport.

But while a few thousand athletes will be pushing their bodies to the limit, most of the world will be watching on TV, sitting inactive for hours on end.

In a series of articles in the Lancet timed to coincide with the Olympics, researchers from 16 countries set out the scale of the health burden created by physical inactivity. You can read more about the research here.

The scientists say they are neither Olympics kill-joys nor are they advocating punishing gym sessions. As Pamela Das from the Lancet puts it: "It is not about running on a treadmill, whilst staring at a mirror and listening to your iPod."

There's nothing wrong with going to the gym of course, but the aim is to encourage everyone to build physical activity into their daily lives, such as by walking, cycling, swimming, gardening or doing any sport they enjoy.

The trouble is, all that sounds familiar. We all know we should move more and sit less.

Despite that, one in three adults worldwide fails to do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week. In the UK two out of three adults don't manage it. The guidance is here.

So rather than stressing the health benefits of exercise, the Lancet researchers have opted to show the harm caused by inactivity. They estimate lack of exercise is responsible for about 5.3m deaths a year - about the same number as smoking.

This is based on estimates of the impact on inactivity on coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and two specfic cancers - breast and bowel - where lack of exercise is a major risk factor.

There are some weaknesses in the data. The scientists have had to rely on the results of questionnaires sent out to 122 countries in which people self-report their levels of activity. It must also be difficult to separate the disease burden of obesity from the figures.

But Dr I-Min Lee, Harvard Medical School, says they were very cautious: "Our estimates of ill-health from lack of physical activity are, if anything, on the low side."

The outlook for the next generation seems bleak. A staggering four out of five 13-15 year olds globally do not do the recommended 60 minutes of activity every day.

The researchers say the problem of inactivity has reached pandemic levels, with far-reaching health, economic, environmental and social consequences. They call for a radical re-think in how to deal with the issue.

But rather than simply focusing on the bad, I prefer to emphasise the good, or rather the benefits of being active. As Dr I-Min Lee put it to me, "Everything that gets worse when we get older, gets better when we exercise."

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @ 29.Frainy93rd:

    You're neglecting the years of quality life the exercise adds. You could be sedentary and have diabetes by 60 and alzheimer's by 70 but live to 80. But what kind of life? Or you could be active and remain healthy until you die of something unavoidable at age 80 anyway. But that's 20 extra years of 'quality' life gained over your diabetic, dementia suffering sedentary alter-ego.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Working in F.E. with 16-18 year old youths, I'm astonished by their appalling diet. Vast amounts of sugary drinks are consumed along with sweets and fast food. However, few of these calories are ever burned in useful effort as very few will cycle the average 5k to college and only their thumbs take exercise. It appears to me that the increase in life expectancy will peak soon and rapidly decline.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Green tea helps support a diet for those that embark on calorie reduction & need something to maintain energy & soothe them. But the best version of green tea is White Tea -- the very youngest leaf.There are some brands that have a fresh taste with no bitterness at all. I have also been drinking Hawthorne Berry Tea which is remarkably good for circulation.Putting time into research &friends helps!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    What's in the radical rethink? Problem is easy; solution is hard. Outdoor activity these days can be risky - kidnapping. assault, bullying. Indoor activity must change - like dancing when you hear music, set up obstacle courses changed daily, post slogans like: "Everything that gets worse when we get older, gets better when we exercise."

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Outlook for next generation seems bleak. A staggering 4/5 13-15 year olds don't do recommended 60 minutes of activity every day.
    And why not?
    TV & Internet Games are far more fun. Social Network is much more fun. Even sleeping is far more fun! Eating all things not good for you is far more fun!
    But in some countries, the solution has been to close youth centres for the sake of austerity.


Comments 5 of 39


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