An important article that recently appeared in the NYTimes caught my eye. It describes the details of a study on how the United States’ physically inactive lifestyles have gone “global” and are now an increasing trend in many other countries as well, even emerging nations as they get wealthier, perform more sedentary jobs, and eat less healthy foods on the go. Here are a few key excerpts from the article:
The latest figures suggest that the world’s population has become disturbingly inactive. According to the researchers’ calculations, 31.1 percent of the world’s adults, or about 1.5 billion people, are almost completely sedentary, meaning that they do not meet the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes of walking or other moderate activity per week, or about 20 minutes a day.
Teenagers are faring even worse. More than 80 percent of young people ages 13 to 15 worldwide are not getting the hour a day of vigorous exercise recommended for their age group.
Unsurprisingly, North America and Europe lead the world in not exercising, with 43.3 percent of Americans and 34.8 percent of Europeans not reaching the low recommended threshold. But the world is catching up or, rather, joining us in sitting down. More than 30 percent of Russians are inactive nowadays; ditto in the Middle East; and about 27 percent of Africans are sedentary.
The study also noted that physical inactivity has proven nearly as deadly as smoking and obesity, or potentially more so:
Specifically, using data from W.H.O. and other large population studies worldwide, the researchers determined that inactivity is linked to about 6 percent of all instances of heart disease on Earth; 7 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases; and 10 percent of all breast and colon cancers, including among people who don’t smoke and are of normal weight.
About 5.3 million people a year die from diseases tied to physical inactivity, the authors calculated.
By comparison, about 5.1 million die annually because of smoking, as an accompanying comment article points out.
“It seems clear from our data that physical inactivity, on a global scale, is at least equivalent to smoking and obesity,” in terms of its deleterious impact on people’s health, says Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study.
What jumped out at me in the article the most is just how little regular daily moderate exercise it would take to curb some of these trends. According to the study:
“It only takes a 20- or 30-minute walk most days of the week,” she says. “With rare exceptions, everyone, everywhere can manage that,” and five million lives around the world could be extended.
So it seems clearly that our culture of “all-or-nothing” extremes is starting proliferate around the world with far too many simply doing nothing or far too little on the physical activity front. What can we do to reverse this disturbing trend and stress that exercise needn’t be all or nothing, and that to doing what’s necessary to be healthy is far more important than taking exercise to extremes for one’s vanity (e.g. those who give up if they can’t have “6-pack” abs or look like models and actors)? The article has some good ideas, so go run and read it here today.