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Not Exercising May Be Worse Than Smoking

While healthy living and exercising go hand in hand, and the overall benefits of being fit are common knowledge, a new study found that not exercising is particularly bad for the health. While that might not sound groundbreaking, what is interesting about the study is that it claims that having a sedentary lifestyle is not only bad for the health, but it is worse than smoking, heart disease and diabetes.

The new findings have been published in January in the JAMA Network Open journal, and they detail how the Cleveland Clinic researchers studied a total of 122,007 patients from the year 1991 all the way to 2014. The researchers put the patients under treadmill testing and then later recorded mortality rates. The patients with the lowest exercise rate accounted for 12 percent of the participants. What they found is a clear connection between a high level of exercise and a healthier, longer life.

One thing that makes the study even more unique, besides the large number of patients that were studied, is the fact that researchers did not rely on what patients reported about their exercise, but they were actually tested. What this means is that researchers were able to figure out objectively the real measure of what they are doing. According to Dr. Jaber, the patients who are not performing very well during a treadmill test have close to double the risk compared to people with kidney failure that are on dialysis.

Dr. Wael Jaber, who is a cardiologist practicing at the Cleveland Clinic and also a senior author of the study, stated that the results are “extremely surprising”. According to the doctor, being unfit in an exercise stress test or on a treadmill test has a worse prognosis when it comes to death compared to being diabetic, being a (current) smoker, or being hypertensive.

Expressing his surprise, the doctor pointed out that they have never seen something as objective and as pronounced as this, when talking to CNN about the study. Dr. Jaber noted that the risk became more shocking when comparing the people who do not exercise much. He pointed out his surprise about the fact that the leading a sender lifestyle or being unfit overwhelms even such risk that are as strong as diabetes, smoking, or even end-stage disease.

Exercising benefits have been seen in men as well as women and across all ages. Dr. Jaber noted however that the benefits are probably slightly more pronounced in females, but stated that whether people are in their 40s or in their 80s they will benefit in the same way. The conclusion of Dr. Jaber being that there is not age limit that does not benefit from being fit.

The report calls for the health care professionals to encourage the patients to achieve and to maintain a robust fitness routine. Dr. Jaber noted that researches need to convey now, to the general population, the risks that being unfit should be considered as strong of a risk factor as diabetes, hypertension, and smoking, if not stronger than all of them. The doctor also added that this should be treated almost as a disease which has exercise as its prescription.

Dr. Jordan Metzl, who is a sport medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, as well as the author of the book entitled “The Exercise Cure” stated that diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the most expensive disease in the country. According to the doctor, over $200 billion are spent per year in order to treat those diseases as well as their complications. Dr. Metzl points out that instead of paying large sums of money for disease treatment, patients and communities in general should be encouraged to exercise every day.

While it is widely understood that having an active lifestyle can lead to a healthier life, the study points out that leading a sedentary lifestyle is equivalent to having a major disease, with the simplest cure being to exercise.

According to the study, cardiorespiratory fitness is inversely associated with long-term mortality, and there is no observed upper limit of benefit. Extremely high aerobic fitness has been associated with the best survival and was also associated with benefits in patients who are older and those who suffer from hypertension.

Dr. Jaber noted that another big revelation that came out from the recent research is that there is no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise. In the past researchers have been concerned that “ultra” exercises might be at a higher risk of death, however, the study concluded that not to be the case – researchers consistently found that the more a person is exercising the lower their mortality rates are.

According to Dr. Wael Jaber, no level of exercise or of fitness would expose a person to that risk, as the study shows that the ultra-fit have lower mortality. Dr. Metzel was not involved in the study but also noted that in the study, individuals who were the most fit did the best, stating that once they are cleared by their physicians, patients should not be afraid to do intense exercising.

Comparing people who are top exercise performers with those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, and there is a risk associated with death that is 500 percent higher. Jaber explained that once you compare the risk of sitting with the highest performing on the exercise test, the result is that risk is approximately 3 times higher than smoking. Even when comparing people who do not exercise much with people who exercise regularly, and the risk is still 390 percent higher.

Dr. Satjit Bhusri, who is a cardiologist practicing at Lenox Hill Hospital, was not involved in the study, but noted that the study reinforces the things that we know. According to Dr. Bhusri, Western, sedentary lifestyle have been leading to a higher incidence in heart disease, and the study show that this can be modified and reversed. While he pointed out that doctors are good at treating people who have had cardiovascular events, they can be prevented.

The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.