FIGHTING FAT: Keeping fit is the only way to ensure optimal health, say experts.

IF YOU thought kicking the cigarette habit was enough to keep you healthy, you may want to go and find your trainers.

Because failing to take enough exercise is as deadly as smoking, researchers say.

It claims more than 90 000 lives in Britain each year from illnesses including heart disease, breast and bowel cancer and diabetes.

The death toll is only marginally lower than that for smoking, which is responsible for around 100 000 deaths annually.

Under National Health Service guidelines, everyone is meant to take at least two-and-a-half hours of exercise a week including walking, gardening or even housework.

But only about a third do, with a fifth saying they work up a sweat only once a month.

Researchers at Harvard estimated the number of lives lost each year because of a lack of exercise. The study, published in The Lancet, found that worldwide it leads to 57 million deaths a year.

In Britain, however, the proportion is even higher and nearly one in six deaths are directly caused by our couch potato lifestyle.

This includes almost one in five bowel cancer deaths, one in six from breast cancer and one in 10 from heart disease.

Lead researcher Dr I-Min Lee, from Harvard Medical School, said: “Am I surprised that it’s comparable to smoking? No. Only about one quarter of the world’s population smoke but about two thirds are inactive.

“A good way to get people active is by commuting to work – walking and cycling.”

She said that in future she hoped those who didn’t take exercise would be regarded as “social pariahs”.

And campaigners insisted that smoking caused many more cases of cancer than not exercising.

Dr Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “When it comes to preventing cancer, stopping smoking is by far the most important thing you can do. Smoking is responsible for over 60 000 cases of the disease each year in the UK, making it the biggest preventable cause of cancer.

“But the role of physical activity in cancer prevention shouldn’t be underestimated.”

According to studies funded by Cancer Research UK, keeping active could help to prevent more than 3 000 cases of breast, bowel and womb cancer in the UK each year. – Daily Mail