Physical inactivity could become 'bigger risk to public health than smoking'

Physical inactivity costs Europe €80 billion every year

Just a few decades ago, your local GP might have offered you a cigarette while you told him what was ailing you – hard to believe now that the devastating effects of smoke have been widely accepted.

But what if there was something now deemed more harmful to public health than smoking? Inactivity could become that thing, according to a study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research commissioned by ISCA (International Sport and Culture Association).

One in four adults in Europe is insufficiently physically active, as are 4 out of 5 adolescents, with a cost to Europe’s economy of over 80bn Euros per year – 5bn Euros more than the world spends on cancer drugs in a year. The most common causes of death are from those diseases linked to being physically inactive such as coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and colorectal and breast cancer.

If nothing is done to get people moving and more active in their day to day lives, the study says physical inactivity could pose a bigger risk to public health in the future than smoking.

Despite the huge financial and human cost, ISCA notes there are cheap and effective ways to get people moving that could save businesses and health services across Europe billions of Euros.

Mogens Kirkeby, ISCA President said: “We need to move more. It’s really as simple as that.

"20 minutes a day of moderate activity would make a massive difference to these figures. If we could cut the current level of physical inactivity in Europe by just a fifth, we could save 100,000 lives and over 16bn Euros a year”.

Kirkeby said that the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends doing nearly two hours a week of moderate activity. “That means 20 minutes a day and could be as simple as getting off the bus or train a stop earlier and taking a brisk walk to work; taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even just playing in the park or garden with the kids”.

Or getting on a bike instead of into the car for a short journey.

Mental health risks
The study also showed that being physically inactive goes beyond physical disorders. One in four Europeans (or 83 million) is affected by mental ill health. The research estimates the indirect cost of inactivity-related mood and anxiety disorders to be over €23bn Euros a year.

This is important, when physical activity has been shown to help reduce the effects of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and psychological and emotional distress. The study also highlights the results of a 16-week trial to get people more active: this showed that those who took part reported sleeping better, being more productive as well feeling healthier and less stressed at work.

According to ISCA, it is possible to ‘defuse the inactivity time bomb’ by getting people to see the physical, mental and social benefits of being active.

“The study is shocking when you see the number of lives being lost and billions of Euros spent because we aren’t moving enough” said Kirkeby.

“That’s why ISCA is campaigning to get 100 million Europeans to be more active by 2020 by finding an activity that moves them. We need to encourage people to move more, so they see and feel the real benefits that brings them.”

So, looking ahead a few decades, will there be a time when hopping in the car for a short journey will be as unacceptable as smoking in public places is now? It’s hard to imagine, but then so was a smoking ban back when you could rely on your local GP for a not so crafty fag.

The full study can be found at ISCA’s dedicated microsite.

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