A newly published Danish study confirms earlier studies this century that assert that regular physical exercise is as important to good health as stopping smoking.
If you’re thinking about letting that gym membership go now that we’ve cleared the worst of the holidays—Valentine’s Day—think again. You could ask for a recount, but the votes are pretty much in.
Exercise—that is, a regular regime of circulation-promoting exercise, as distinct from good intentions—is the best preventative for the health crises people worry about most: cancer, cardiac problems, and stroke.You couldn’t accuse Cancer News of burying the lead in its January 28 article, “Daily physical activity is more important than weight: New study finds it lowers risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke – even in people who are overweight or obese.” It’s right there in the headline.
Looking at data from the Danish National Health Examination Survey 2007-2008, a research team from Denmark’s Copenhagen University concluded that even in the cases of people who are overweight or obese, sustaining a daily regimen of physical activity can reduce the risks of those most-feared medical crises.
The article quoted Anne-Sophie Wedell-Neergaard, of Copenhagen University's Centre for Physical Activity, as saying, “These results suggest that, regardless of BMI, high fitness levels lead to a reduction in abdominal fat mass and low-grade inflammation.” The study was published in the January 17 issue of the journal PLUS ONE.
The survey on which the study was based collected data from nearly 11,000 Danes aged 18 and more. In addition to measuring participants’ waists, the Copenhagen researchers took blood samples to test for C-Reactive Protein, a serum protein that increases when the body is fighting off infection.
They further evaluated the participants’ physical fitness by measuring their “VO2 max,” which quantifies aerobic capacity, or maximum oxygen consumption. Other factors, such as smoking history, were also taken into account. The study further found that regardless of the participants BMI (body mass index), “there is a positive link between waist size and CRP.”
The study added weight, so to speak, to prior research by the University of Cambridge that revealed that, in Europe, “physical inactivity is twice as deadly as obesity.” That study tracked more than 334,000 Europeans for 12 years. That study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, specifically sought to compare the risks posed by physical inactivity and obesity.
Cancer News reported that study’s tabulations as follows: “The researches found that approximately 676,000 deaths every year were due to a lack of exercise, in comparison to 337,000 deaths accountable to obesity.”
Ulf Ekelund, a researcher on that study, told BBC News, “The greatest risk [of an early death] was in those classed inactive, and that was consistent in normal weight, overweight and obese people." That team suggested at least 20 minutes of brisk walking per day at a minimum.
Ekelund added, “We should also strive to reduce obesity, but I do think physical activity needs to be recognised as a very important public health strategy. I think people need to consider their 24-hour day.
“Twenty minutes of physical activity, equivalent to a brisk walk, should be possible for most people to include on their way to or from work, or on lunch breaks, or in the evening instead of watching TV."
He and his fellow researchers did add, pointedly, that tackling both obesity and physical activity was preferable.
And before that….
An even earlier study, published in The Lancet, had concluded that lack of exercise was as harmful to health as smoking. That study was conducted by a team of international researchers commissioned by The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group. Its findings are spelled out in detail in a highly readable report written for the lay reader by the UK’s National Health Services.
As summarized by Cancer News, those researchers “that one out of 10 cases of heart disease and one out of five cases of colon cancer in the U.K. are caused by physical inactivity. Overall, it was revealed that a lack of exercise caused over 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred across the world in 2008, which is comparable to the five million deaths due to smoking in 2000. The researchers suggest that a decrease or elimination of a sedentary lifestyle could greatly improve health.”
The only wiggle room should probably be in your tummy fat.
Recommendations about appropriate amounts of exercise vary, of course. Again in the words of Cancer News, The World Health Organization “recommends adults aged 18 to 64 to do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity in a week or a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week or an equivalent combination of both.”
It goes without saying that there are other factors to consider, every individual being different, and some individuals precluded from exercise by passing physical limitations or permanent disabilities. Exercise regimes should always be worked out with and supervised by a physician knowledgeable about your health picture in full.
For what it’s worth, the latest thinking would appear to be that physical exercise is not a reliable means of weight loss. Also, cycling is currently gaining points as the best all-around form of physical exercise.
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0190645 (journal article)