Lack of exercise is as bad for you as smoking: Failing to get fit causes 90,000 deaths a yearDeath toll from smoking is only slightly higher
Only a third get enough exercise each week
07:04 GMT, 18 July 2012
Under NHS guidelines, everyone is meant to take at least two and a half hours of exercise a week
If you thought kicking the cigarette habit was enough to keep you healthy, you may want to go and find your trainers.
Because failing to take enough exercise is as deadly as smoking, researchers say.
More than 90,000 lives in Britain each year from illnesses including heart disease, breast and bowel cancer and diabetes.
The death toll is only marginally lower than that for smoking, which is responsible for around 100,000 deaths annually.
Under NHS guidelines, everyone is meant to take at least two and a half hours of exercise a week including walking, gardening or even housework.
But only about a third do, with a fifth saying they work up a sweat only once a month.
Researchers at Harvard estimated the number of lives lost each year because of a lack of exercise.
The study, published in The Lancet, found that worldwide it leads to one in ten deaths, or 57million a year.
In Britain, however, the proportion is even higher and nearly one in six deaths are directly caused by our couch potato lifestyle.
This includes almost one in five bowel cancer deaths, one in six from breast cancer and one in ten from heart disease.
Lead researcher Dr I-Min Lee, from Harvard Medical School, said: ‘Am I surprised that it’s comparable to smoking, no.
‘Only about one quarter of the world’s population smoke but about two thirds are inactive.
‘The UK is doing worse than the world average. We’re not sure why this is but only about a third are taking the recommended amount. It could be to do with the weather. There is also a lack of infrastructure to encourage people to walk and cycle.
‘A good way to get people active is by commuting to work – walking and cycling.
‘This happens in London, but even here it’s tough because the roads are so narrow.’
Get creative: Exercise can include walking gardening or even housework
Dr Lee added that in future she hoped those who didn’t take exercise would be regarded as ‘social pariahs’.
‘Tobacco has done it successfully. Many years ago most people smoked but now you are a pariah if you smoke,’ she added
Dr Lee said her figures on the proportion of deaths in the UK caused by lack of physical activity were only an estimate.
And campaigners insisted that smoking caused many more cases of cancer than not exercising.
Dr Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘When it comes to preventing cancer, stopping smoking is by far the most important thing you can do.
‘Smoking is responsible for over 60,000 cases of the disease each year in the UK, making it the biggest preventable cause of cancer.
‘But the role of physical activity in cancer prevention shouldn’t be underestimated.’
According to research funded by the charity, keeping active could help to prevent more than 3,000 cases of breast, bowel and womb cancer in the UK each year.
In a separate study, also published in The Lancet, Brazilian researchers ranked Britain as third from bottom in a European league table of exercise.
The nation has twice as many ‘inactive’ adults as France, Greece and the Netherlands, according to their analysis of World Health Organisation data.