Researchers taking a look at 334,000 European men and women that participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study discovered that twice as many deaths may have been attributable to lack of physical activity compared to those deaths from obesity. More importantly, they also discovered that a modest increase in physical activity can have significant health benefits.
To measure the link between premature death and physical inactivity and its interaction with obesity the researchers analyzed data including height, weight and waist circumference over an average of 12 years. They also used self-assessment to measure levels of physical activity.
- The greatest reduction in risk of premature death occurred in the comparison between inactive and moderately inactive groups judged by combining activity at work with recreational activity.
- 7 percent of participants were categorized as inactive - reporting no recreational activity in combination with a sedentary occupation.
- Doing exercise equivalent to just a 20 minute brisk walk each day burning between 90 and 110 calories would take a person from the inactive to moderately inactive group and reduce their risk of premature death by between 16 and 30 percent. The impact was greatest among normal weight individuals but even those with a higher BMI saw a benefit.
- Researchers estimated that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths among European men and women were attributable to obesity classed as a BMI greater than 30 but that 676,000 of the deaths double the number could be attributed to physical activity.
- Physical inactivity has been consistently associated with an increased risk of early death and is associated with a greater risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The association with early death is independent of a persons BMI although it may also contribute to an increased body mass index.
"This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive, said Professor Ulf Ekelund from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. Although we found that just 20 minutes would make a difference, we should really be looking to do more than this - physical activity has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life."
"Helping people to lose weight can be a real challenge, and whilst we should continue to aim at reducing population levels of obesity, public health interventions that encourage people to make small but achievable changes in physical activity can have significant health benefits and may be easier to achieve and maintain, added Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the MRC Unit.