Are You Lacking Physical Activity?

Did you know that a brisk 20 minute walk each day could be enough to reduce your risk of early death? Physical inactivity is associated with an increased risk of early death, associated with a greater risk of diseases cancer and heart disease and may also contribute to obesity and an increased body mass index.

A new study just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition observed 334,000 European men and women and learned that twice as many of the deaths may be attributable to lack of physical activity compared with the number of deaths attributable to obesity. The researchers say that just a modest increase in physical exercise could have significant health benefits.

With a goal of measuring the link between physical inactivity and premature death and its interaction with obesity, researchers studied data over 12 years from 334,161 men and women across Europe that participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study. They measured weight, height, waist circumference and used self-assessment to measure levels of physical activity.

The Results

They learned that the greatest reduction in risk of premature death occurred in the comparison between inactive and moderately inactive groups. These were judged by combining activity at work with recreational activity.

  • 7 percent of the participants were categorized as inactive and reported no recreational activity in combination with a sedentary occupation. They estimated that doing exercise equivalent to just a 20 minute brisk walk each day that burns between 90 and 110 calories would take an individual from the inactive to the moderately inactive group. It would also reduce their risk of premature death by 16 to 30 percent. The greatest impact was seen among the normal weight individuals and even those with higher BMI saw a benefit.

  • Three-hundred and thirty-seven thousand of the 9.2 million deaths amongst European men and women were attributable to obesity classed as a BMI greater than 30. Six-hundred and seventy-six thousand of these deaths could be attributed to physical inactivity.


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, says Professor Ulf Ekelund of the Medical Research Council 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, added Professor Nick Wareham, MRC unit director. 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.

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