Lack of exercise leaves a person at greater risk of early death than does being obese, according to a study published this evening. And it could take little more than a daily 20-minute walk to reduce the death toll due to inactivity. A huge study of more than 334,000 European men and women showed that twice as many deaths were connected with lack of physical activity compared to being obese.

The Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society have for years pointed out the value of exercise as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and cancer. This study led by Prof Ulf Ekelund of the University of Cambridge seems to underpin the value of this advice. The research aim was to measure the link between physical inactivity and premature death, while also assessing its interaction with obesity. The 334,161 men and women involved are participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study. The researchers measured these individuals’ height, weight and waist circumference over a 12-year period and also asked them about their levels of physical activity. The results are published this evening in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers found the greatest reduction in risk was between inactive and moderately inactive groups. Almost a quarter of the cohort were inactive with no recreational activity and a sedentary job.

A daily 20-minute brisk walk was enough to lift this inactive group into the lower risk moderately inactive group. This reduced their risk from premature death by between 16-30 per cent.
“This isn’t surprising,” said Maureen Mulvihill, head of health promotion at the Irish Heart Foundation. Lack of exercise ranks fourth for risk of death behind high blood pressure, smoking and blood glucose levels and ahead of obesity, she said.

“Also more people are inactive than obese with 23 per cent of people in Ireland obese but more than 50 per cent inactive, she said. The Foundation recommends people take between 150 and 300 minutes a week of moderately intensive activity. This includes walking, gardening, cycling, climbing stairs or dancing. There is no need to be heavily into running or other sports to achieve these levels.
“The take home message is get up and get moving and all activity has a health benefit,” Ms Mulvihill said. It will reduce risk of heart disease by 30 per cent and the reduction in stroke risk is even higher, she added.

Exercise also helps reduce cancer risks, said Kevin O’Hagan, health promotion manager at the Irish Cancer Society. “There is clear evidence to tell us that physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of breast, bowel and womb cancer. It may also help prevent lung cancer,” he said. Being physically active along with eating a healthy diet and not smoking can help reduce the risk of cancer by up to 50 per cent, he added. It is estimated that 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity offers the greatest protection against cancer.

Courtesy of Irish Times

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