Strong evidence shows that physical inactivity increases the risk of many adverse
health conditions, including major non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart
disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers, and shortens life expectancy.
Because much of the world's population is inactive, this link presents a major public
health issue. We aimed to quantify the eff ect of physical inactivity on these major
non-communicable diseases by estimating how much disease could be averted if inactive
people were to become active and to estimate gain in life expectancy at the population
For our analysis of burden of disease, we calculated population attributable fractions
(PAFs) associated with physical inactivity using conservative assumptions for each
of the major non-communicable diseases, by country, to estimate how much disease could
be averted if physical inactivity were eliminated. We used life-table analysis to
estimate gains in life expectancy of the population.
Worldwide, we estimate that physical inactivity causes 6% (ranging from 3·2% in southeast
Asia to 7·8% in the eastern Mediterranean region) of the burden of disease from coronary
heart disease, 7% (3·9-9·6) of type 2 diabetes, 10% (5·6-14·1) of breast cancer, and
10% (5·7-13·8) of colon cancer. Inactivity causes 9% (range 5·1-12·5) of premature
mortality, or more than 5·3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide
in 2008. If inactivity were not eliminated, but decreased instead by 10% or 25%, more
than 533 000 and more than 1·3 million deaths, respectively, could be averted every
year. We estimated that elimination of physical inactivity would increase the life
expectancy of the world's population by 0·68 (range 0·41-0·95) years.
Physical inactivity has a major health eff ect worldwide. Decrease in or removal of
this unhealthy behaviour could improve health substantially.