Physical Inactivity Tied to High Burden of Disease and Death Worldwide

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Physical Inactivity Tied to High Burden of Disease and Death Worldwide

A lack of physical activity is to blame for for about 7% of deaths worldwide, along with a varying proportion of different noncommunicable health conditions ranging from cancer to dementia, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Physical inactivity is known to be a contributing factor toward a wide variety of serious health conditions, many of which can lead to death — ranging from type 2 diabetes to cancer. Based on population-level reports of deaths from these and other health conditions, as well as data showing how many people develop these conditions or die at varying levels of physical activity, it’s possible for researchers to estimate the effect that physical activity — or inactivity — has on these outcomes within a specific country’s population.

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Researchers looked at available data on physical activity levels, deaths and rates of relevant health conditions in 168 different countries. Based on these numbers, for each country, they estimated what percentage of deaths, and of total cases of several health conditions, could be avoided if physical inactivity were eliminated in that country. The health conditions in the analysis included coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, and cancer of the bladder, breasts, colon, endometrium, esophagus, stomach and kidneys.

Physical inactivity accounts for 7.2% of total deaths

As noted in a NewsMedical Life Sciences article on the study, the researchers found that overall, the impact of physical inactivity on the average person — in terms of disease burden and death — was greater in high-income countries (like the United States) than in middle-income or low-income countries. But the overall impact, when the total number of people is accounted for, was greatest in middle-income countries, which include some of the most populous countries on the planet. Out of all deaths associated with physical inactivity, 69% occurred in middle-income countries, including 74% of deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Overall, the researchers found that 7.2% of total deaths — all deaths recorded in all 168 countries — could be explained by physical inactivity, along with 7.6% of all deaths from cardiovascular disease. When it came to specific health conditions that could be explained by physical activity, estimates ranged from 1.6% for hypertension to 8.1% for dementia. In general, for individual countries, these numbers were more than twice as high in high-income countries as in low-income countries. The areas of the world with the highest percentages of death and disease linked to physical inactivity were Latin America and the Caribbean, high-income Western countries, and high-income Asia Pacific countries.

“The global burden associated with physical inactivity is substantial,” the researchers concluded, and noted that efforts to reduce physical inactivity in both high-income and middle-income countries could yield substantial health and financial benefits.

Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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