Physical inactivity is causing twice as many deaths as obesity, according to a new European study that documented people’s health over a 12 year period. Whilst the health risks associated with obesity are well known, the study found that inactivity also had a major impact on health increasing the chances of an early death – independent of obesity.
Obesity and inactivity often go hand in hand, but the study found that inactivity itself was responsible for a reduced life span in people of normal weight also. In conclusion, the study found that an inactive lifestyle was a significant risk factor for developing diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, regardless of weight and could contribute to a decreased lifespan.
It is known that thin people have a higher risk of health problems if they are inactive, and that obese people who exercise are in better health than those that do not. So one of the aims of the study was to assess the individual dangers of inactivity and obesity. Researchers followed 334,161 Europeans for 12 years. They assessed exercise levels and waistlines and recorded every death. They calculated that while 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths in Europe per year could be associated with obesity, approximately twice as many, 676,000, were attributable to inactivity.
Overall they estimated that the risk of early death could be reduced by between 16 and 30% by doing a small amount of moderate exercise daily. An inactive lifestyle is a major risk factor for obesity, heart disease and cancer. However, inactivity on its own can impact on our health increasing the chances of an early death – and is independent of the effects of obesity, in fact the diseases caused by inactivity and obesity were largely the same, such as cardiovascular disease. However, type 2 diabetes was more common with obesity.
The researchers concluded that as little as 20 minutes brisk walking a day could make a difference and that we should all be looking to do more physical activity every day. Eliminating inactivity in Europe could cut mortality rates by nearly 7.5%, or 676,000 deaths, but eliminating obesity would cut rates by just 3.6%. However, the researchers stressed that we should strive to tackle both inactivity and obesity, as they are both significant health issues.
Professor Ulf Ekelund, from the Medical Research Council’s epidemiology unit at Cambridge, who led the study, said that the findings carried a simple message.
“Just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits,” he said. “…Although we found that just 20 minutes would make a difference, we should really be looking to do more than this.”
“The greatest risk [of an early death] was in those classed inactive, and that was consistent in normal weight, overweight and obese people.”