Not Exercising or Being Obese: Experts Explain Which Is Worse


Many people assume that having a normal body mass index (BMI) and a lean appearance is all it takes to maintain good health. As such, they may not bother exercising, thinking that their trim physique is all that’s required to keep their health going strong.

Not so fast.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently found that physical inactivity is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and early death — the same health conditions which are also associated with obesity. Specifically, they discovered that deaths linked to inactivity have more doubled compared to deaths associated with obesity.(1)

The published study notes:

Approximately 9.2 million deaths occurred in European men and women in 2008, of which — according to our estimates from the current study — 676,000 deaths may be attributable to physical inactivity compared with 337,000 deaths attributable to obesity (BMI .30).(2)

Therefore, the mind set many have that they can forgo fitness so long as they have a decent BMI and make wise dietary choices goes by the wayside.

For the study, the experts assessed data involving 334,000 European men and women who had participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. Over the course of 12 years, the researchers measured physical details such as waist circumference (WC), height, weight and physical activity. They also considered recreational, occupational and household activity. For example, work-related questions involved whether one stood (e.g., hairdresser, guard), was sedentary (e.g., office work), engaged in physical work (e.g., plumber, nurse), or if they participated in heavy manual labor such as a construction worker. They also looked at physical activity outside of work such as jogging or swimming, then broke them up into four groups: active, moderately active, moderately inactive, and inactive.(1,2)

Deaths Related to Physical Inactivity Higher Than People May Think

The study was titled, “Physical activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC).” It first appeared in mid-January 2015 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It states:

Our results suggest that the influence of physical inactivity on mortality appears to be greater than that of high BMI and similar to that of high WC in European men and women. Physical inactivity may theoretically be responsible for twice as many total deaths as high BMI in this population, similar to the number of deaths averted if abdominal adiposity were eliminated.(2)

The benefits of physical activity are many. It can help with weight reduction and maintenance, relieve stress, improve heart health, boost circulation and much more.

So important is it that many medical professionals actually write “park prescriptions” for walking, providing their patients with suggestions on how they can incorporate more activity throughout the day.

Thoreau, Orwell and Nietzsche Did it…Do You?

Others have also written about the fact that walking for pure enjoyment seems to be fading away.

A recent BBC article asks readers whether the art of “purposeless walking,” which the likes of Thoreau, Orwell and Nietzsche engaged in, is becoming a thing of the past.

It hones in on walking with cell phones and gadgets in hand, where the notion of observing nature and one’s own thoughts are on the back burner. We’re aware that physical activity can improve physical health, but the article recalls studies showing that it has the ability to boost creative thinking as well.(3)

Exercising improves health, keeping everything from weight and heart health to energy and creativity in check. Rather than looking at it as something that can be sacrificed so long as obesity is kept at bay (by a naturally-effective metabolism, refusal of junk food consumption, surgery, etc.), it’s vital to understand that staying physically active and controlling weight are the keys to longevity and good health.

Sources for this article include: