Inactivity 'as bad for your health as smoking'

Too many Britons don't do enough exercise. Photo: ITV News

Britain's population as one of the most sedentary on earth. More than 60% of the population do not do the recommended amount of exercise each day and new research suggests this is as damaging to our health as smoking.

Britain has the third-highest proportion of 'inactive' adults in Europe, and less people do regular exercise here than in the United States. Inactivity is defined as not meeting any of the following three criteria:

  • 30 minutes of moderate activity such as a brisk walk at least five days a week
  • 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three days a week
  • An equivalent combination of either of the two

The study, published by the Lancet medical journal, suggests that worldwide three out of 10 adults do too little exercise. In many countries in Europe this figure more than doubles.

The research also found that more than 80% of 13 to 15-year-olds around the world do not get the minimum recommended hour of moderate exercise a day. Emma Murphy reports:

Within Europe only Malta and Serbia have higher levels of inactivity. Here is how we compare to other countries in terms of the proportion of population who fail to meet the recommended levels of daily exercise:

  • UK: 63%
  • US: 40.5%
  • France: 32.5%
  • Netherlands: 18.2%
  • Republic of Ireland: 53.2%
  • Malta: 71.9%
  • Serbia: 68.3%

Study leader Dr Pedro Hallal from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil said the technical revolution is in part to blame for our laziness. He warned that physical inactivity could be responsible for 5.3 million deaths a year.

Although the technical revolution has been of great benefit to many populations throughout the world, it has come at a major cost in terms of the contribution of physical inactivity to the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases.

Societal trends are leading to less not more activity than previously, and with few exceptions, health professionals have been unable to mobilise governments and populations to take physical inactivity seriously as a public health issue.

Average life expectancy worldwide would rise by around 0.68 years if no one was physically inactive, said the researchers. Eradicating smoking and obesity would achieve about the same result.

  • 6% of heart disease cases are linked to inactivity
  • 10% of breast and bowel cancers are linked to inactivity
  • 7% of type-2 diabetes are linked to inactivity