Even a small amount of exercise, such as brisk daily 20 minute walk, reduces the risk of premature death.
Lack of exercise is twice as deadly as obesity, but a brisk 20-minute walk each day is all it takes to avoid an early death, Cambridge University has said.
A study of more than 334,000 people over 12 years found exercising was more important than body weight for longevity.
Researchers estimated that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths amongst European men and women each year were attributable to obesity but twice this number of deaths could be attributed to physical inactivity.
They found that even small amounts of exercise, such as brisk 20 minute walk each day which burns around 100 calories, had major health impacts, reducing the risk of premature death.
Previous research has found that physical inactivity is linked to heart disease and cancer.
Avoiding inactivity reduced the risk of death from any cause by 7.35 per cent over the study period. In contrast, having a BMI under obesity levels was estimated to lower mortality by just 3.66 per cent.
“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 study leader Professor Ulf Ekelund, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University.
“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.”
Participants in the research, who had an average age of around 50, were all recruited to the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (Epic) study conducted across 10 European countries, including the UK.
All had their height, weight, and waist sizes measured and provided self-assessments of physical activity levels.
Just under a quarter (22.7 per cent) were categorised as inactive, working in sedentary jobs without engaging in any recreational exercise.
The greatest reductions in the risk of premature death were seen when comparing moderately active groups with those who were completely inactive.
Using the most recent available public data, the researchers calculated that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths that occurred in Europe in 2008 could be attributed to obesity.
But physical inactivity was thought to be responsible for almost double this number – 676,000 deaths.
Co-author Professor Nick Wareham, director of the Medical Research Council’s Epidemiology Unit, said: “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.”
Charities said the results were a ‘clear reminder’ that exercise was the best way to avoid an early death.
June Davison, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The research suggests that just a modest increase in physical activity can have health benefits.
“Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, carrying it out in sessions of 10 minutes or more.
“Whether it’s going for a walk, taking a bike ride or using the stairs instead of the lift, keeping active every day will help reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease.”
Philip Insall, Director of Health for Sustrans added: “This country cannot afford to continue ignoring the relationship between physically active transport and health.’
“Inactive lifestyles are responsible for thousands of premature deaths and incur massive costs for our health system. Enabling people to walk and cycle for their everyday journeys is the tonic for the nation that must be prescribed immediately.
“This research comes as the new Infrastructure Bill is going through Parliament. The Bill presently proposes a huge investment in new roads, making the inactivity problem even worse. It is imperative for the sake of our health that investment in walking and cycling should be a central part to this new legislation.”
The findings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Source: The Telegraph
January 14, 2015
By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor