Physical inactivity kills as many people as smoking

If ever you needed a shock to the system to make you get off your backside and into a pair of trainers, this is it: Lack of physical activity kills roughly as many people as smoking. That is the shocking message from a series of papers published this week on the health impact of inactivity.

The papers, published in The Lancet suggest that more than 5.3 million deaths would be avoided each year if all inactive people exercised, about the same toll as the 5 million deaths annually from smoking.

The deaths could have been avoided if people reached a weekly target of 150 minutes or more of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking.

“We tried to estimate how many deaths would be avoided if all the inactive people in the world became active,” says I-Min Lee at Harvard Medical School, head of the team that published one of the papers.

Lee analysed data from 2008 on deaths from four major illnesses that are already linked with lack of exercise – coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and breast cancer. Her team combined data on the deaths with information on levels of exercise in each country.

From this they calculated that if everyone reached their weekly exercise targets, about 6 per cent of those who died globally from heart attacks would have survived, as would 7 per cent of those who died of type 2 diabetes, and 10 per cent of those who died from breast or colon cancer.

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