Inactivity kills more than obesity

Lack of movement can kill twice as many people as being overweight.

This is according to a 12-year study conducted in Europe among more than 300,000 people.

A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge reported 676,000 deaths every year as a result of physical immobilization.

Deaths from obesity are 337,000.

Researchers conclude that if we engage in at least 20 minutes of brisk walking once a day, the benefits of this exercise will be significant.

According to experts, exercise is good for people regardless of their weight. The problem is that obesity and inactivity often go hand in hand.

What’s more – thin people are known to have a higher risk of health problems if they are not physically active.

And obese people who exercise, run, go to the gym, swim, do aerobics and Zumba, or simply practice brisk walking, are in better health than those who don’t.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, attempts to disentangle the relative dangers of physical inactivity and obesity.

Obese vs. inactive

Researchers followed the lives, habits and health indicators of 334,161 Europeans for 12 years. They assessed levels of physical activity and recorded each death.

“The greatest risk of early death is in people who are sedentary and do no physical activity, and this trend is consistent for people with normal weight, overweight and obese,” one of the researchers, Prof. Ulf Ekelund told BBC News.

He reckons that if Europeans did at least a little sport, the death rate on the Old Continent would drop by nearly 7.5%, or 676,000 deaths, while if the problem of obesity was solved, the death rate would decrease by only 3.6%.

Prof. Ekelund adds: “But I don’t think that should appeaseoverweight people. Of course we should aim to reduce obesity, but I think physical activity should count as extremely important public health strategy.”


Although Prof. Ekelund, who is based in Norway, is a cross-country skier and spends a minimum of five hours a week on vigorous exercise, he believes , that all that is sufficient to transform health is fast walking.

“I think people need to rearrange their working day. They should aim for twenty minutes of physical activity equivalent to brisk walking – whether it’s on the way to or from work, or during your lunch break, and why not in the evening instead of watching TV.”

Diseases caused by inactivity and obesity are largely the same, such as cardiovascular disease, for example. However, type 2 diabetes is more commonly associated with obesity.

Commenting on the results, Barbara Dinsdale, from the charity Heart Research UK, said: “This study once again reinforces the importance of physical activity even when people are overweight.

Changing your lifestyle is good news for heart health, but physical activity is always easier to achieve and maintain without carrying the extra ‘baggage’ of extra pounds.”

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