BRITAIN’S health department calls it “the silent killer”. Others have labelled it “the new smoking”. Lack of physical activity has crept up the list of global causes of death to fourth place, after high blood pressure, smoking and high blood sugar—not least because it helps waistlines expand.
Even a little exercise has a huge health effect, whether or not people shed their extra pounds. Research presented on August 30th at a cardiology conference in London suggests that walking fast for 25 minutes a day can buy three to seven years of extra life. A bigger study by a team at Cambridge University tracked 300,000 Europeans over 12 years, and found that a brisk daily 20-minute walk, or the equivalent, cut the annual death rate for people of normal weight by a quarter, and for the obese by 16%. Getting everyone sedentary to do this would save twice as many lives as ending obesity, says Ulf Ekelund, the lead researcher.
Dangerous streets and restrictive cultural norms mean that almost everywhere, women are the sedentary sex. Many avoid walking, particularly after dark, and activities such as cycling and street football are often men-only. Just a fifth of 11- to 17-year-olds globally do the minimum recommended for their age, and even where that share is rising, including in Germany, France and the Netherlands, most youngsters move far too little. The voice of the sluggard, it seems, is only going to grow louder.
“You have waked me too soon…” The Economist, Sept 5, 2015