Global Physical Inactivity – by Julian Kaufman

I recently attended a fitness symposium featuring a presentation of the findings of the Lancet Study on global physical inactivity. The Lancet study on global inactivity was an attempt to measure global inactivity.  And while the task could not be performed as scientifically as one would hope, the Lancet study is a milestone in researching the pandemic proportions of global inactivity, its determinants, harms, and strategies for intervention.  Data was collected in 122 countries on adults and 105 countries on children. The information that I’ll share with you comes from the largest study on physical inactivity ever.

What did the study discover?  Worldwide, 31.1% of adults are physically inactive but in America the percentage was a whopping 43%.  Inactivity was consistently found to rise with age, is higher amongst females and in high-income countries.  Even more scary is the proportion of children 13 to 15 years old who exercise less than one hour per day was found to be 80%.  The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that the risk of non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer increase proportionally with inactivity.

In 2008, 53 million people died of one of these non-communicable diseases.  Just a 10% increase in physical activity could avert 1.3 million deaths per year.  The BBC reported in July 2012 that deaths related to physical inactivity have reached the same levels as deaths due to smoking.  It was also found that three hours of screen time per day (TV / computer) increased one’s risk for heart disease by 64%.  One hour of screen time increased one’s risk for heart disease by 11%.

What should we do?  The study discovered that 90% of the population will not do moderate to high intensity exercise.  The good news is that the study found that a big difference was found in the markers for these non-communicable diseases by simple gaining 150 minutes of light exercise such as walking per week.  This walking does not include that which is part of one’s normal movement routines of life but is in addition to normal activity.  For some 150 minutes is a big number but can easily be broken down into manageable amounts of 5 days per week for 30 minutes or 7 days per week for just under 22 minutes.

What are simple strategies?  Schedule a 22 minute walk into your day 7 days per week or 5 days per week at 30 minutes and put it down on your calendar.  Set your alarm on your cell phone to remind you to get up and walk.  There are even apps that can provide you accountability. Stopping work 5 minutes per hour to walk intentionally at a brisk pace and you will easily gain 40 minutes a day, and the multiple bouts of walking is even more effective as the heart rate remains elevated for several minutes following each walk.  These small breaks have also proven to make for effective and efficient work.  It truly is simple and easy to make huge differences in one’s health.

The findings were so far reaching that it can literally be said that ALL benefit from movement, even for quadriplegics who have therapists who move their limbs for them, demonstrates at the cellular level that the markers for non-communicable disease improve substantially.  Physical inactivity has even proven at the cellular level to assist in the detrimental effects of stress and depression.  Exercise is truly medicine.

The researchers of the Lancet Study agree that perfect measures of physical inactivity remain elusive; however, 150 minutes of exercise is less expensive than medications and less tragic than death.  So, get walking – Exercise Is Medicine!

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