Half of Irish 'don't get enough exercise'


A new study shows that over half of Irish adults do not get sufficient exercise.

The study, which is published in the latest edition of The Lancet, also shows that Britain has one of the most sedentary populations on Earth, with almost twice the proportion of people defined as “inactive” as in France.

On the eve of the London Olympics, the global figures reveal that even the Americans are better when it comes to taking exercise than the British.

In the UK, 63.3 per cent of the population fails to meet recommended levels of physical activity, thereby increasing their risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

By comparison, 40.5 per cent of US citizens are inactive, despite more than 30 per cent of them being obese.

Britain has the third-highest proportion of inactive adults in Europe after Malta (71.9 per cent) and Serbia (68.3 per cent).

In the Republic of Ireland, 53.2 per cent of the population do insufficient exercise, according to the study.

However, an alternative study published last week by the Irish Sports Council showed that the number of people exercising has doubled since 2009, partly because many people have more time as a result of the recession.

For the latest research, researchers used World Health Organisation survey data, collected by questionnaire, to compare 122 countries representing 89 per cent of the world’s population.

The highest number of inactive adults is in Swaziland (69 per cent), followed by Saudi Arabia (68.8 per cent).

Of the French population, 32.5 per cent are inactive, while in the super-fit Netherlands just 18.2 per cent of people are inactive.

Inactivity was defined 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.

The findings, part of a series of studies on physical activity published in The Lancet medical journal, suggest that, worldwide, roughly three out of every 10 adults aged 15 and over do too little exercise.

“Although the technical revolution has been of great benefit to many populations throughout the world, it has come at a major cost in terms of the contribution of physical inactivity to the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases," said study leader Dr Pedro Hallal, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil.

“Societal trends are leading to less not more activity than previously, and with few exceptions, health professionals have been unable to mobilise governments and populations to take physical inactivity seriously as a public health issue.”

The research also found that more than 80 per cent of 13 to 15-year-olds around the world do not get the minimum recommended hour of moderate exercise a day.

A second study carried out by the Harvard Medical School in Boston found that lack of physical activity leads to 6 per cent to 10 per cent of all cases of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and breast and bowel cancer.

Globally, it was responsible for around 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred in 2008.

The contribution of insufficient exercise to disease and shortened lifespan was similar to that of smoking or obesity.

Researchers calculated the extent to which non-communicable diseases could be prevented if all a country’s inactive population became active.

The estimates suggest that, worldwide, 6 per cent of heart disease cases are linked to lack of exercise, ranging from 3.2 per cent in south-east Asia to 7.8 per cent in the eastern Mediterranean.

Low levels of physical activity are blamed for around 7 per cent of type-2 diabetes cases, and 10 per cent of breast and bowel cancer cases.

Average life expectancy worldwide would rise by around 0.68 years if no one was physically inactive, said the researchers. Eradicating smoking and obesity would achieve about the same result.

Additional reporting: PA