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17-07-2012 | General practice | Article

Physical inactivity a ‘pandemic‘



MedWire News: Action is required to tackle the "pandemic of physical inactivity", say experts who attribute up to 10% of deaths from four major noncommunicable diseases to lack of exercise.

In the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group calls for government-led global efforts to increase population activity through infrastructure, planning, policy, leadership and advocacy, training, monitoring and surveillance.

Professor Harold Kohl 3rd, from the University of Texas in Austin, USA and co-authors say that physical inactivity should be targeted by examining the population-wide causes of inactivity, and "making the physically active choice the easy choice."

They write: "Make physical activity an integral part of an overall disease prevention and health promotion model, including screening for physical inactivity, counselling about physical activity in prevention and disease treatment and management strategies as well as increased investment in comprehensive physical activity promotion policies, action plans, and implementation programmes."

The series is based around research showing that physical inactivity, defined as less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, is associated with 9% of worldwide premature deaths, estimated to be 5.3 million in 2008.

In particular, physical inactivity is associated with 6% of deaths from coronary heart disease, 7% of deaths from Type 2 diabetes, and 10% of deaths from breast cancer and colon cancer. Decreasing physical inactivity by 25% could avert 1.3 million premature deaths, the researchers say, increasing world life expectancy by 0.68 years.

"This summer, we will admire the breathtaking feats of athletes competing in the 2012 Olympic Games. Although only the smallest fraction of the population will attain these heights, the overwhelming majority of us are able to be physically active at very modest levels - eg, 15-30 min a day of brisk walking - which bring substantial health benefits," commented author I-Min Lee (Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA) in a press release.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Lynda Williams