Couch Potato Britain: 20m Physically Inactive, at Risk of Early Death

Over 20 million UK people are physically inactive, as revealed in a report by the British Heart Foundation.


The BHF warns that inactivity increases your heart disease risk, and costs our NHS more than £1bn per year.

Harriet Mulvaney had a life-changing heart attack at 44 and immediately decided to change the way she lived her life.


“Looking back on it now I would say I was very inactive. I thought I was active but actually I think I was just busy,” she professes.


UK men are 36% less likely than women to be deemed physically inactive – around 8m men versus 12m women.


The study defines “inactive” as not meeting government advice for physical activity. This equates to 150 minutes of medium-intensity activity per week, with at least two strength-related activities per week.


As an HR consultant, Harriet would drive an hour to work and then sit at a desk for 8-10 hours a day, before returning home exhausted.


Family life would take up the rest of her time, and this left no room for exercise.


The BHF study concluded that the average UK man will spend 20% of his lifetime sat down – this works out at 78 days per year. The figure is slightly less for women at 74 days per year.


Harriet had no warning signs or symptoms of any kind before suffering her heart attack.

“I was climbing the stairs to get ready for bed when I suddenly had severe chest pain which went

down my left arm and into my jaw – I then realised it was fairly serious.”

“We called an ambulance – which was certainly the right thing to do.”


In Great Britain, physical inactivity is responsible for approximately 10% of all premature deaths from cardiovascular disease, and 16% of the total of premature deaths.


Exercise guidance for UK adults aged 18-64

  • Be sure to get at least 2.5 hours of medium-intensity aerobic activity each week.
  • Work on strength exercises twice per week – and include all the major muscles as far as possible
  • Try to incorporate short breaks of light activity if you need to sit down for long periods.


What do we consider medium-intensity aerobic activity?

Power-walking, aqua aerobics, tennis, hiking, rollerblading or skateboarding, volleyball, riding a bike etc.


What constitutes vigorous activity?

Higher intensity jogging or swimming, football, basketball, rugby, jumprope, aerobics, gymnastics


The risk of early death

Harriet reassessed her lifestyle straight after her heart attack.


“I had to think about the job that I did and the life I was leading – and start generally looking after myself better.”


She confesses that making the change to become more active was a struggle, as she is not alone in this.


The BHF found that 76% of UK residents, when undergoing rehabilitation after heart surgery or a coronary disease, are considered to be physically inactive.


The charity states that physical inactivity is responsible for over 5m deaths globally each year, putting it into the top 10 reasons for death.


Dr Mike Knapton, who is an associate medical director at the BHF, came out as saying that, “levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour in the UK remain high. These two risk factors combine to present a substantial threat to our cardiovascular health and risk of early death.


“Evidence shows keeping physically active can reduce the risk of early death by as much as 30%.”


Worrying findings for sedentary office workers. Are you active enough?