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What’s Worse: No Exercise or Obesity?

Being obese is linked to a host of health problems. However, recent research states that being physically inactive may be a bigger problem.

The research involved 334,161 participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study. Each subject’s height, weight and waist circumference were measured at a medical clinic. Participants self-reported their physical activity levels. The researchers learned that those who were physically active fared much better than inactive individuals across all variables. For instance, even moderately active participants with a high BMI had a 20%–30% lower risk of dying during the 12.4-year follow-up than sedentary individuals with a comparable BMI. Results were similar for active versus inactive people with like amounts of abdominal adiposity. Of course, active subjects with a lower BMI or less adiposity had an even lower risk of dying.

“The most pronounced decreased hazard was observed between the inactive (reference) and moderately inactive groups in both the abdominally lean and abdominally obese groups,” they noted.

These data were true only for recreational activity, the authors added.
There was no association between mortality and occupational physical activity. The good news is that improving mortality risk doesn’t seem to require significant increases in physical activity, which may be helpful in inspiring sedentary individuals to improve their health scores.

“The greatest reductions in all-cause mortality risk were observed between the inactive and the moderately inactive groups across levels of general and abdominal adiposity, which suggests that efforts to encourage even small increases in activity in inactive individuals may be of public health benefit,” the authors concluded.

The study appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.114.100065).

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