I admit it: I have an addiction I’ve endured for decades and I’ll never get over it. It still runs much of my life. And now I learn, according to research on millions of people worldwide, that every six seconds someone dies from their relationship to this addiction.

My addiction is exercise. And while many of my friends believe that I exercise too much, worldwide, researchers maintain, millions of people are dying each year from not enough exercise.

A study published in The Lancet shows that every day an estimated 14,520 people die early deaths because they don’t get enough exercise. Some of those people, of course, never get any exercise at all.

Epidemic Of Inactivity

These scientists state: “Worldwide, we (estimate) that physical inactivity causes 6—10% of the major non-communicable diseases of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. Furthermore, this unhealthy behavior causes 9% of premature mortality, or more than 5.3 of the 57 million deaths in 2008.” (That’s the latest year for which these kinds of numbers are available.)

In other words, we are couch potatoing ourselves to death. And while North America and Europe may be leading the way in demonstrating how you can vegetate yourself to an early grave, the rest of the world is catching up to this deadly practice.


Maybe I’m oversensitive to the effects of exercise, but I don’t really understand how you can’t love to work out. My addiction to exercise used to entail running 40 to 50 miles per week. In recent years, I’ve cut back. I don’t jog anymore. I restrict my activity to the occasional spin class, soccer, basketball, weight lifting, calisthenics and yard work.

I’ve always loved to exercise until I’m sweaty and exhausted. Nowadays, when the Alabama sun hits high noon on a summer weekend, you’ll find me at the soccer field or out back of the house mowing the grass (and dodging fire ants). I’ve got a riding mower, but that’s no fun. I’d rather push-mow and get my arms and legs working.

For me, the benefits of sweating and giving your muscles something to think about are immediate: My mood usually goes sky high, stress evaporates and I generally feel great. Even eating afterwards, when you’re really hungry, is more enjoyable than the usual meal.

As the researchers in The Lancet point out, the benefits of exercise include reducing your chances of:

  • Early death from any cause
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Depression
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Falling and breaking bones

Exercise generally improves:

  • Muscle strength
  • Brain function
  • Bone health
  • Ability to do everyday tasks
  • Weight loss
  • Fitness of your cardiovascular system

More than one commentator has pointed out that if exercise were a drug, it would be a miracle drug that would be prescribed to everyone. Instead, so few people are exercising that experts are calling global inactivity a pandemic that now contributes to one in 10 deaths.


How much exercise should you be doing? The researchers in The Lancet recommend performing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. That can include walking around the block, gardening, walking up stairs, riding a bicycle, swimming or anything else that gets you moving.

The research on our lack of exercise shows that as countries grow richer, their citizens move around less and less. But the studies also demonstrate that if we could merely reduce inactivity by 10 percent, we could save about 10,000 lives a week.

According to figures in The Lancet, at least 30 percent of people over the age of 15 (about 1.5 billion people) don’t move around enough. And the younger generation may be even more sedentary than their parents. Studies of adolescent activity shows that 80 percent of those 13 to 15 years old are not getting sufficient exercise.

Getting Older And Better

Of course, fighting off the effects of aging represents one of exercise’s most wonderful benefits. As researcher Dr. I-Min Lee of the Harvard Medical School told the BBC, “Everything that gets worse when we get older gets better when we exercise.”