(Bloomberg) -- Lack of exercise may be responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity, according to a study showing the benefits of as little as 20 minutes of brisk walking a day.
Using the most recent available data on deaths in Europe, 337,000 of 9.2 million fatalities over a 12-year period were attributable to obesity, scientists led by epidemiologist Ulf Ekelund at the University of Cambridge said in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition today. About double that number could be explained by physical inactivity, they said.
A lack of exercise is the fourth leading risk factor for premature death after smoking, excessive drinking and obesity, according to the World Health Organization. It’s the cause of at least an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally per year.
“Helping people to lose weight can be a real challenge,” Nick Wareham, director of the University of Cambridge’s Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, said in a statement. “Public health interventions that encourage people to make small but achievable changes in physical activity can have significant health benefits and may be easier to achieve and maintain.”
The researchers analyzed data from 334,000 men and women across Europe participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study.
They estimate that exercise equivalent to a 20-minute brisk walk each day -- burning 90 to 110 calories -- reduces the risk of premature death by as much as 30 percent when compared with no exercise. The impact was greatest among normal weight individuals, but those with higher body mass index also saw a benefit.
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