Physical inactivity leads to a shorter life expectancy, causing as many premature deaths as tobacco smoking or obesity.

New Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) studies are bringing to light the serious health impact of a sedentary lifestyle. Physical inactivity leads to a shorter life expectancy and increased risks of many chronic diseases. In fact, it causes as many premature deaths worldwide as tobacco smoking or obesity.

A recent study led by BWH epidemiologist Dr. I-Min Lee estimates that physical inactivity causes between six and ten percent of coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and breast cancer cases worldwide.  Inactivity also is responsible for some 5.3 million deaths worldwide each year – comparable to the 5 million deaths worldwide per year that are attributed to tobacco smoking or the 3 million deaths worldwide per year attributed to obesity.  Physical inactivity was defined in the study as not getting the recommended amount of physical activity, which is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g., 30 minute brisk walk, 5 times a week).

“Physical inactivity has a major health effect globally,” said Dr. Lee, the lead author of the study. “While it is unrealistic to suppose that we can eliminate inactivity worldwide, a decrease in the number of people worldwide who are inactive by just 25 percent could save as many as 1.3 million lives worldwide each year.”

Excessive sitting and TV viewing also have been found to be detrimental to life expectancy. In a separate study, Dr. Lee and her colleagues discovered that reducing sitting to less than three hours a day is estimated to increase life expectancy by two years among the U.S. population. They also found that reducing television watching to less than two hours a day is estimated to increase life expectancy by 1.38 years.

In addition to reduced rates of chronic disease and depression, there is strong evidence of increased cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, healthier body mass and composition, improved bone health, increased functional health, and improved cognitive function among people who are physically active.

What activities do you do to remain physically active? Share your suggestions in our comments section.

– Jessica F

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