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Physical Inactivity more Dangerous than Obesity

Physical Inactivity more Dangerous than Obesity

New research suggests that a lack of physical activity is twice as deadly as being obese.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge discovered a brisk 20 minute walk each day could be enough to reduce an individual’s risk of early death.

Researchers studied over 334,000 European men and women and found that twice as many deaths may be attributable to lack of physical activity compared with the number of deaths attributable to obesity.

Furthermore, they discovered that just a modest increase in physical activity could have significant health benefits.

Prior research has found that physical inactivity is associated with an increased risk of early death, as well as being associated with a greater risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

Increased body mass index (BMI) and obesity are often linked to physical inactivity and a poor diet. However, the discovery that physical inactivity is associated with an early death was independent of a person’s BMI.

To measure the link between physical inactivity and premature death, and its interaction with obesity, researchers analyzed data from 334,161 men and women. Over an average of 12 years, the researchers measured height, weight, and waist circumference, and used self-assessment to measure levels of physical activity.

The study results are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers found that the greatest reduction in risk of premature death occurred in the comparison between inactive and moderately inactive groups. This was judged by combining activity at work with recreational activity.

Investigators found that just under a quarter (22.7 percent) of participants were categorized as inactive, reporting no recreational activity in combination with a sedentary occupation.

The authors estimate that doing exercise equivalent to just a 20 minute brisk walk each day — burning between 90 and 110 kcal (‘calories’) — would take an individual from the inactive to moderately inactive group and reduce their risk of premature death by between 16-30 percent.

The impact was greatest among normal weight individuals, but even those with higher BMI saw a benefit.

Using the most recent available data on deaths in Europe the researchers estimate that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths amongst European men and women were attributable to obesity (classed as a BMI greater than 30): however, double this number of deaths (676,000) could be attributed to physical inactivity.

Cambridge epidemiologist Professor Ulf Ekelund was the study leader, he comments: “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.

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.”

Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the Medical Research Council Unit, adds: “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.”

Source: Cambridge University

Innactive man photo by shutterstock.

Physical Inactivity more Dangerous than Obesity

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Physical Inactivity more Dangerous than Obesity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 16 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.