Physical Inactivity May Be Responsible for the Same Amount of Deaths as Smoking

Failing to engage in routine exercise may cause as many deaths as smoking, according to a new study published in The Lancet. Individuals not spending at least 150 minutes a week doing moderate exercise (like walking for 30 minutes 5 times a week), is causing approximately 6% to 10% of worldwide deaths in four serious non-communicable diseases: type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and colon and breast cancer.

In 2008, a lack of exercise was responsible for the deaths of 5.3 million of the 57 million lives that were lost that year globally. This information was revealed in a report that detailed how physical inactivity is similar to tobacco smoking or obesity, leading to disease and shortening individual’s lifespans.

I-Min Lee, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and fellow researchers estimated the worldwide impact of physical inactivity on diseases like type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and coronary heart disease. For each region and country, they were able to calculate the degree to which these diseases could be prevented if people started to become as active as necessary.

The estimates revealed that about 6% of coronary heart disease cases were associated with physical inactivity. For type 2 diabetes, 7% of cases were linked to a lack of activity. Additionally, 10% of breast cancer and colon cancer cases are connected with inactivity.

The researchers explain the estimates by stating, "Removal of physical inactivity had the largest effect on colon cancer, and the smallest on coronary heart disease, in terms of percentage reduction. However, with respect to the number of cases that can potentially be averted, coronary heart disease would have a far larger effect than would colon cancer because of its higher incidence. Although the worldwide incidence of coronary heart disease is not readily available, deaths from coronary heart disease can be viewed against colorectal cancer deaths to provide some perspective."

Although it is in the best interest of individual’s to make physical activity a part of their lives, it is unlikely that so many people would make necessary changes. With this in mind, the research team determined the potential number of preventable deaths worldwide each year. In a case where 10% of people became physically active, over 500, deaths would be avoided. If 25% of people became active, then 1.3 million deaths would be avoided.

Lee concludes, "This summer, we admired the breathtaking feats of athletes competing in the 2012 Olympic Games. Although only the smallest fraction of the population will attain these heights, the overwhelming majority of us are able to be physically active at every modest levels-e.g. 15-30 min a day of brisk walking- which bring substantial health benefits."


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