A weighty issue

So here is the thing: exercise is good for you.

This is the startling discovery, revealed in a news report today, based on new research from the University of Cambridge and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Ok, I’m being glib, that’s not all the report said; what it highlighted was the fact that a lack of exercise could be a greater risk factor in causing death than obesity.

The European-wide study, conducted over a 12-year period and surveying over 300,000 people, suggests that around 676,000 deaths each year are down to inactivity, compared with 337,000 from being overweight.

Now while obesity and inactivity often go hand in hand and therefore it may be difficult to separate the risk factors associated with each, the study also demonstrated that regular exercise was beneficial to people of any weight (quite the revelation!).

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Ekelund, one of the researchers on the project, stated that ‘the greatest risk [of an early death] was in those classed inactive, and that was consistent in normal weight, overweight and obese people.’

From the results he has extrapolated that eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by nearly 7.5%, or 676,000 deaths, while eliminating obesity would cut rates by just 3.6%.

However, Professor Ekelund conceded that it isn’t just a case of cutting one or the other, stating ‘we should also strive to reduce obesity, but I do think physical activity needs to be recognised as a very important public health strategy.’

While the research is hardly earth-shattering, it is positive to hear such encouragement of exercise. The report noted that even just 20 minutes of brisk walking a day would have substantial benefits: an easy aspiration for most.

This new research dovetails nicely with the chapter from Alex Hutchinson’s book that I’ve just read on weight management.

Here he cites a 2009 study by a team of American and Canadian researchers, again over a 12-year period but with a smaller sample (11,326 adults), which showed much the same thing.

The conclusion: physical fitness acts as a much better barometer of long-term health than weight.

This is a valuable message for anyone exercising but not necessarily seeing the results on the scales and while it doesn’t let obesity off the hook entirely, it’s certainly another reason to get your running shoes on.

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