Inactivity is causing as many deaths as smoking across the world- and Britain has one of the most sedentary populations on the planet.
Researchers used World Health Organisation survey data, collected by questionnaire, to compare 122 countries representing 89 per cent of the world's population.
The report, published in the Lancet, defined inactivity as not meeting any of three criteria: 30 minutes of moderate activity such as a brisk walk, at least five days a week; 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three days a week; or an equivalent combination of the two.
According to the team of 33 researchers, inactivity was responsible for around 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008.
The contribution of insufficient exercise to disease and shortened lifespan was similar to that of smoking or obesity.
In total, 6 per cent of heart disease cases, 7 per cent of type-2 diabetes and 10 per cent of breast and bowel cancer cases are linked to lack of exercise worldwide. Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said:
"The results of this study, though shocking, tell us what we already know. Being physically active can have huge benefits for your health."
Experts say the problem is so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.
The report also revealed that Britain has one of the most sedentary populations on earth. In the UK, 63.3 per cent of the population fails to meet recommended levels of physical activity. In comparison, just 40.5 per cent of US citizens are considered inactive.
However, whilst smoking and inactivity kill a similar number of people, smoking rates are much lower than the number of inactive people- making smoking more risk to the individual. Dr Claire Knight, of Cancer Research UK, said:
"When it comes to preventing cancer, stopping smoking is by far the most important thing you can do."
© ActiveQuote Health Ltd. 2012