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Inactivity to blame for 1 in 10 Australian deaths

Inactivity to blame for 1 in 10 Australian deaths
July 19, 2012

A lack of physical activity is responsible for one in ten premature deaths in Australia and worldwide, according to a new study published in respected UK medical journal The Lancet.

In second report on physical activity in as many weeks, The Lancet paper, from a team led by researchers from Boston University, found that a lack of physical activity was responsible for about 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths globally in 2008 and that the burden of physical inactivity and shortening of life expectancy was similar to that caused by tobacco smoking.

The Lancet also found that inactivity - defined as doing less than 150 minutes of moderate activity like brisk walking a week - causes between 6 and 11% of Australian cases of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Following on from the study, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Sydneysiders have the lowest levels of physical activity among residents in Australia's capital cities, with a lack of recreational facilities partly blamed for keeping people on the couch.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that University of Sydney Professor of Public Health Adrian Bauman (the co-author of Sport and exercise as contributors to the health of nations – published in The Lancet last week) as stating that the full range of factors that led some people to exercise more than others was not well understood.

Professir Bauman, who led a review of more than 1,000 papers on physical activity in a paper as part of a series on physical activity in The Lancet, was quoted as saying "inactivity is a much greater health threat than obesity, yet many existing studies tend to be focused on higher income countries, look at small groups of people that don't represent the broader population and consider only a few factors that lead to physical activity.

"Future studies need to include larger populations and examine not just age, sex, and motivation to exercise, but also factors outside of the health sector such as urban planning, transportation systems, local policies and social environment."

Such studies were vital to prevent diseases related to inactivity including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, he said.

A number of studies found lighting and aesthetics, such as in parks and ovals, could boost activity levels by as much as 50% and that access to ovals, bike lanes and bike storage facilities were also important – reasons that Perth and Canberra were the nation's most active cities, Professor Bauman told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Those who were male, young, wealthy and had family and social support were among the most likely to exercise, the review found, while Professor Bauman said the elderly and some migrant groups were among the least active.

He added "we found poorer people were much more likely to walk to public transport or the entire way to work, and were more active once there, while affluent groups are doing more physical activity in their leisure time but spent more time sitting down throughout the day."

The review pointed to new evidence suggesting some people were genetically predisposed to being physically active, while evolutionary factors and obesity might account for inactivity, but Professor Bauman said such factors only accounted for about 5% of predisposition to exercise, concluding "not enough to be used as an excuse."

His review is part of a series on physical activity in The Lancet.

Commenting on the research Australian Heart Foundation Clinical Issues Director Dr Robert Grenfell stated "getting Australia active could save around 1,500 deaths from heart disease each year according to this research.

"More than a third of Australians aged 15 and over do very little or no exercise at all, which is putting their heart and overall health at great risk.

"It's important to remember that being active doesn't have to mean working out at the gym – it can be as simple as walking for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week."

Heart disease is the number one killer of Australian men and women, responsible for nearly 22,000 deaths a year or one death every 24 minutes.

Dr Grenfell adds "regular physical activity is good for your heart and can help control other risk factors such as high blood pressure and being overweight.

"That's why the Heart Foundation also lobbies Federal and State Governments to improve local neighbourhoods so that more people have access to parks and safe walking and cycling paths."

The Lancet paper Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy can be viewed at www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61031-9/abstract

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