Being a Couch Potato As Bad As Smoking For Your Health


Nearly a third of adults world-wide do not do enough physical activity according to a series of newly published studies in the British medical journal The Lancet. Some 5.3 million people die every year from inactivity, which causes an estimated six percent of heart disease, seven percent of type 2 diabetes (the most common form) and 10 percent of breast and colon cancers.

Inactivity was defined as failing to do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week, 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week, or a combination of the two.

Four out of five adolescents are not getting enough exercise; among those 15 and over, three of every 10 (about 1.5 billion people) get insufficient exercise. Men are more likely to be active than woman, inactivity increases with age and is more prevalent in wealthy countries.

One study suggests that a lack of physical activity is as deadly as smoking and say the problem should be treated as a “pandemic.”

Exercise helps the bones, muscles, heart and other organs function best and has been linked to lowering depression and enhancing students’ performance in school.

How Much Of a Sloth Are You?

The Guardian has published the data for what could be called a “laziness index.” Here’s the figures for industrialized countries:

• In Canada, 34% of adults are inactive; in the US, 41%.
• In the UK, 63.3% of adults are inactive; in Serbia,  68.3%; in Malta, 71.9%.
• The most active countries in Europe are Greece, where 16% are inactive, Estonia (17%) and the Netherlands (18%).

Here are inactivity rates for a selection of countries in Africa, Latin American and Asia

• In Mozambique, 7.1% of adults are inactive; in Kenya, 16.5%; in Niger, 29.3%; in Algeria, 40.5%.
• In Guatemala, 16.2% of adults are inactive; in Brazil, 49.2%; in Argentina, 68.3% (the same as in the UK).
• In Bangladesh, 4.7% of adults are inactive; in the Philippines, 23.7%; in China, 31%; in Japan, 60.2%.

The contrasts between wealthy and developing nations are especially striking and offer further (unfortunate) evidence of how exporting a western diet and lifestyle portend poorly for global health.

What Can We Do?

On a more positive note, one study suggests strategies and policies to promote physical activity such as mass-media campaigns and support for physical activity in schools and in communities. Also encouraged are changes in the built environment and urban planning including “community-scale and street-scale urban design and land use, active transport policy and practices, and community-wide policies and planning.” One example is Ciclovia, an initiative in the Columbian capital of Bogota: On Sundays and holidays, the usually traffic-filled streets in the city’s center are vehicle-free. A million residents now walk around on Sundays; a fifth say they would not except for Ciclovia, according to the BBC.

Noting a tendency to emphasize the benefits of physical activity, some researchers argue that we ought also to focus on how harmful inactivity is. Write Chi Pang Wen and Xifeng Wu:

Socially, being inactive is perceived as normal, and in fact doctors order patients to remain on bed rest far more often than they encourage exercise. This passive attitude towards inactivity, where exercise is viewed as a personal choice, is anachronistic, and is reminiscent of the battles still being fought over smoking.

The Lancet timed the publishing of the physical activity series with the 2012 Olympics. Certainly many people will be watching the games, whether in the stadiums or from their own couches. But clearly many of us need to engage less in spectator sorts and get up and get ourselves moving at least citius — faster — if not altius and fortius — ever higher and with more strength!


Related Care2 Coverage

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Photo by Alex E. Proimos


Julli R.
.2 years ago

This is a great post; it was very edifying. I look ahead in reading more of your work. Kayfun V4 clone

Laurence L.
laurence h4 years ago

Already knew this but it's good to have a recall.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago


Harry Longabaugh
Harry Longabaugh5 years ago


Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O5 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Valerie A.
Valerie A5 years ago


Margaret M.
Marge F5 years ago

I thank-you again for posting this article. Since I left a longer comment below yesterday, this will be short. Care2 needs to have their system majorly over-hauled. Has anyone else found that since Care2 was hacked the beginning of this year things are worse than they already were? I am asked repeatedly to login, I don't get credit for doing a Daily Action or for a comment I've left after reading an article, doing a poll, etc., etc., etc. Filling out & submitting the 'Help Forms' but to no avail. Care2 claims the website is built on a foundation of trust. I joined to help those in need, not to make friends (nothing personal) although I have it's just not official. No friends prevents one from giving other members a green star b/c, as C2 has told me, no friends = no trust in others. Yet we all can spend hours doing things to accumulate butterfly credits trusting Care2 to award credits when credits are due. C2 doesn't recognize member's efforts or they just outright ignore them & thus no credits are given/reflected on our Dashboard. Quite a double standard I would say! Again, I thank-you for reading this. Any & all input will be greatly appreciated & warmly received.

Susanne R.
Susanne R5 years ago

Admittedly, I'm about as active as a slug --when I'm not caring for my grandchildren or my home. Thankfully, our health insurance plan covers a gym membership, which my husband and I have both taken advantage of. If only I could make myself go. Tomorrow, I say...

Dale Overall

When I was a child we spent a vast amount of time going outdoor and we were always active. I had a paper rout for 11 years. We were always exploring wild areas close to home, watching animals and birds and ignoring the TV with one or two channels. How things have changed as today's children have endless channels, computers and a diet of highly refined foods with so many additives, GMO veggies sprayed with pesticides and snack on packaged snacks while spending endless hours on the computer or watching TV.

Love to walk by the river which is around a seven hour walk from where I live. Was up a few days ago at 5:30 and it was extremely foggy so I figured that it would be good to walk around the block for some photos. Ended up going to the river and walking, stopped to talk to a senior in a canoe while he regaled me for an hour with stories about wildlife he had seen, then walked following the river watch herons and squirrels. Ended up at the next park by the historic Rideau River locks and the canal, more wildlife and lovely scenery. By the time I got home it had been over three hours. A spontaneous walk can bring many joys, visual delights along with exercise.

Margarita G.
Margarita G5 years ago

Thanks for posting!