OK, you have a choice. You get to pick your poison. You can either smoke and exercise, or you can be inactive and not smoke. Which would you choose in order to avoid illness and premature death? The best option, exercise and not smoking, is not available to choose from.
Smoking and Physical Inactivity
Well, based on a recent study published in Lancet, a the British journal, smoking and physical inactivity carry similar risks to our health. Given the two choices above my hunch is most people would have said that not smoking and not exercising is healthier than smoking and exercising thinking that smoking is more unhealthy than physical inactivity. At least, that would have been my answer before reading this article.
Population Attribution Fraction
The Lancet study is interesting in that it uses a measure called population attribution fraction (PAF). Most diseases are influenced by more than one risk factor. PAF is a way to weigh the importance of each known risk factor on a particular disease. In other words, how many cases of a disease would be avoided if a particular risk factor was absence. In this case, how much reduction in a disease would we see if nobody smoked, or if everybody obtained sufficient exercise or physical activity?
Health Benefits of Exercise
There is convincing evidence that exercise reduces all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, metabolic syndrome, depression, and breast and colon cancer. Plus, exercise improves cardiopulmonary function, body composition, bone density, cognitive function, and overall function.
The Lancet study found that physical inactivity worldwide causes 6% to 10% of the cases of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers, and 9% of premature deaths.
Now here’s what may sound disappointing. If physical inactivity were completely eliminated life expectancy would increase by 0.68 years, or 248 days. The authors of the study cautioned, however, interpreting the change in life expectancy, because that improvement applies to the entire world population, not just those who are inactive. So if you’re currently inactive and became physically active you would see a greater improvement that 0.68 years. Based on other studies performed in the US life expectancy increases by 1.3 to 3.7 by becoming physically active. That’s a pretty nice increase for daily brisk walking of 15 to 30 minutes a day.
Overall, this study showed that physical inactivity carries a similar risk to health as does smoking and obesity.
Even if living longer isn’t your goal, becoming more physically active will improve your quality of life enabling you to better enjoy your time on this planet.
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