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HONG KONG, July 24 (AFP) - Life as a couch potato is more deadly than smoking, according to new research which found more people in Hong Kong died from lack of physical activity than from tobacco consumption.
The study of Hong Kong residents aged over 35 who died in 1998 found a lack of physical activity caused more than 6,400 deaths a year, compared with just over 5,700 from smoking, the South China Morning Post reported Saturday.
Relatives of 24,079 people who died in 1998 were questioned about the amount of leisure-time physical activity the deceased engaged in during the decade before their deaths, it said.
The research was carried out by the University of Hong Kong and the Department of Health.
"We calculated that about 20 percent of all deaths in Hong Kong people aged 35 and above could be attributed to a lack of physical activity. This amounted to 6,450 deaths," the Post quoted Lam Tai-hing, head of the university's department of community medicine, as saying.
"Deaths due to physical inactivity exceeded those due to smoking -- 5,270 in 1998," he said.
Physical activity was defined as any form of activity or exercise outside work.
"Over half of the people in Hong Kong do not have enough physical activity. We can even say that they are grossly inadequate," Lam said.
Just 29 to 36 percent of the men who died had been active at least once a month, and 30 to 36 percent of the women.
The professor said smoking and lack of physical activity were both deadly.
"There are many people who do not smoke, but they also have very low levels of physical activity. So the message to them is: it is fine if you do not smoke. But if you do not exercise, then you are (still) at high risk," Lam said.
For inactive adults, the risk of dying from cancer increases 45 percent for men and 28 percent for women, the researchers found.
The risk of dying from respiratory ailments soars 92 percent for men and 75 percent for women, while the rise of dying from heart disease rises 52 percent for men and 28 percent for women.
Lam said even moderate increases in physical activity were beneficial to health.
"You do not have to do a lot... if you cut down your sitting time by half an hour and walk -- and you do not need gyms or stadiums to do this -- if you do a bit more walking and do a little bit more house cleaning, these would be beneficial," Lam said.
The research findings are published in the latest issue of the US-based Annals of Epidemiology.
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