Obesity is a serious health disorder in the United States and many other countries. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, about 27.7 percent of Americans are overweight. The survey also showed that for the past six years, nearly two-thirds of Americans have had higher than recommended BMIs, while about 35% of Americans are in the "normal weight" category. Overweight or obese people face higher risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer. Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that lack of exercise may be twice as deadly as obesity. The Cambridge University researchers found that 20 minutes of brisk walking each day could be enough to reduce an individual’s risk of early death.
Past studies have consistently demonstrated that physical inactivity can contribute to high body mass index (BMI), obesity, and chronic health conditions, thereby increasing the risk of early death. The new study suggests that replacing a sedentary lifestyle with some physical activity could lower the risk of early death in people of all weights and waist sizes.
The researchers analyzed about 334,000 European men and women to measure the link between physical inactivity and premature death (attributable to obesity). They compared individual BMI, waist circumference (WC), and self-reported physical activity (PA) levels with all-cause mortality data. The participants were categorized on the basis of a 4-level activity designation: moderately inactive, moderately active and active and followed up over 12 years during which about 21, 438 patients died.
It was found that a modest increase in physical activity could have significant health benefits. The key findings of the study are as follows
- After adjusting for sex, educational level, and lifestyle, the researchers found that within all BMI groups, mortality rates for moderately inactive individuals were 20%-30% lower than rates of inactive individuals.
- The researchers estimated that doing physical exercise that burns between 90-110 calories a day with 20-minutes of brisk walking could reduce the risk of premature death by 16-30 percent. The effect of moderate physical activity was higher for people of normal weight, though even those with higher BMI benefited.
It was concluded that even a small amount of exercise each day could have substantial health benefits for people (particularly those who are inactive).
The results of this study underline the need to develop effective interventions in the form of healthy diet patterns and weight loss programs to combat the obesity epidemic. Making changes in eating patterns with informed food choices (in form of reduced calorie intake or a healthy diet) and regular physical activity and exercise programs can help manage weight and increase lifespan.