Even deadlier than obesity

I’m noticing an alarming trend among my patients who think that faithfully taking their supplements and eating well means they get license to sit on the sofa. Don’t get me wrong…Supplementing with essential nutrients and eating a wholesome diet is an integral part of getting—and staying—healthy. But so is exercise. And if you want to achieve truly optimal health, you have to step away from the sofa.

And I really do just mean “step.”

A new and very large (over 300,000 people) European study has shown that even a little bit of low-impact exercise has some powerful health benefits.

I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s worth repeating when something as simple as a 20-minute walk every day can result in such a major impact on your health.

But there was one detail revealed by this study that may surprise you. The researchers determined inactivity is even more deadly than obesity (and I’ve warned you many times before about how deadly obesity is).

In fact, the researchers found that lack of physical activity leads to twice as many premature deaths as obesity.

Using the most recent available statistics, the researchers estimate that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths among European men and women were attributable to obesity. However, based on their findings, they concluded 676,000 deaths—yes DOUBLE—could be attributed to physical inactivity.

But when the subjects in the study incorporated even a little bit of exercise into their daily regimen, it made a huge difference.

The study authors estimate that burning between 90 and 110 calories—which is roughly equivalent to a brisk, 20-minute walk—can take someone from being “inactive” to “moderately inactive.” Which is enough to reduce the risk of premature death by 16 to 30 percent.

In other words, just a 20-minute walk each day can cut your risk of dying early by nearly a third.

The effects were most pronounced in people who were normal weight, compared to those who were obese. (Though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get moving if your BMI puts you in the “obese” range. Everyone in this study benefitted to some degree from the addition of physical activity.)

And this isn’t the only study to prove that a little bit goes a long way where exercise is concerned. Previous research has shown that just 15 minutes of exercise per day can cut the risk of all-cause mortality by 14 percent.

Of course, you’ve heard me say all this before. But the authors of this new study raised another valid point that’s worth noting. They pointed out that encouraging patients to get moving—even just a little bit—is one of the simplest, easiest recommendations doctors can make. Yet they seldom do. Most primary-care physicians mention exercise about as often as they bring up supplements. (Which is basically never.) And the rare times they do, they don’t offer any practical advice or recommendations. Simply telling a patient to “exercise” is about as helpful as telling them to “lose weight.” Without specific instructions, you can’t expect them to make much progress.

That’s why I’m always “nagging” you about taking that daily walk around the block. If you’re not currently very active, it’s the perfect way to get started.  If you can do more, great! But don’t feel discouraged if you can’t in the beginning.

As this new study—and all of the previous research that came before it—shows, a 15-20 minute walk every day can make a big difference.

If you’d like to read more about the amazing health benefits you can get from walking, at the top right corner of the website, and type “walk” into the Search function at the top of the page.


“Physical activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC).” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, epub ahead of print 1/14/15

“Inactivity More Deadly Than Obesity, Large New Study Finds,” Medscape, 1/15/15