A study published in The Lancet shows how physical inactivity is a significant disease burden, as it remains an issue without direct solution unless there is a clear prioritization on people getting up from the couch.

It was determined that the costs related to health care and lack of productivity linked to physical inactivity added to $53.8 billion in 2013 for 142 countries, which account for 93.2 percent of the world’s population. High-income countries were determined to spend more as they deal with physical inactivity while low-income countries had a proportionally higher disease burden.

A sedentary lifestyle not only leads to unhealthy consequences for people's bodies but also means a massive amount of money  spent collectively. Image Credit: UPI
A sedentary lifestyle not only leads to unhealthy consequences for people’s bodies but also means a massive amount of money spent collectively. Image Credit: UPI

“In wealthy countries, people pay with their pockets. In less wealthy countries, they’re paying with their lives,” stated lead author Melody Ding from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.

The cost of being lazy

The costs taken into account were those related to diabetes, colon cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke and breast cancer whenever the ailment could be associated with physical inactivity. These have been determined to be the five most common diseases linked to the condition.

According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, only one in three adults performs a sufficient amount of physical activity each week, which according to the World Health Organization, would be equivalent to 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity per week.

A related meta-study reviewed over 1 million people and determined that investing at least one hour per day in moderate physical activity may suppress the adverse effects of sitting still for 8 hours a day. The subjects were aged over 45 years old and mainly resided in the U.S., Australia, and Western Europe.

These findings have been recently published mainly due to the lack of success in dealing with the world’s physical inactivity epidemic, which has been on a steady climb since 2012, as 1 out of every 4 adults does not perform enough physical activity.

The researchers of the meta-study analyzed the results of 16 studies and looked at the association between inactivity time and increased mortality. The most significant values for physical activity appeared to be brisk walking at 5.6 km/h or cycling at 16 km/h. Those that sat still for at least 8 hours a day but did partake in physical activity had a better overall health than the ones that sat for less time but did not exercise enough.

It is worth noticing that the meta-study determined that an average of 67 minutes of daily physical activity was just enough to counteract the health risks of sitting still for 8 hours or more, while the World Health Organization’s recommendation is an hour and 50 minutes of activity, a much lower amount.

There appears to be a significant concern in people getting their 150 minutes of weekly exercise. Image Credit: Bloomberg
There appears to be a significant concern in people getting their 150 minutes of weekly exercise. Image Credit: Bloomberg

“Our message is a positive one: it is possible to reduce – or even eliminate – these risks if we are active enough, even without having to take up sports or go to the gym,” stated lead author Professor Ulf Ekelund from the Norwegian School of Sports in Norway.

Professor Ekelund acknowledged that people with office jobs have to sit for long hours without being able to take a walk before finishing their work. He stressed that for these individuals it is of the utmost importance to get sufficient exercise, at least taking a walk at lunchtime or by going to work by jogging or cycling.

Something that people must do for themselves

The research highlights that over 90 percent of the countries has a physical activity policy, while only 71 percent considered it to be operational. Although the numbers appear somewhat promising, there has not been much progress on increasing the levels of physical activity, as 23 percent of all adults and 80 percent of all educated adolescents did not meet the 150-minute mark.

Professor Jim Sallis, from the University of California San Diego, also took part in the research. He suggested that heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even dementia can be avoided by people that were physically active. Sallis argued that the global response concerning overall health status “has been far too slow.”

The solution appears to be that recreational, educative and environmental organizations have to collaborate in order to recognize physical inactivity as a health risk factor. One measure to be applied is to learn from other countries’ successes, such as bus stops being put further apart from each other to encourage walking (as in the case of Bogota, Colombia and Cambridge, UK) or promoting healthy school activities and nutrition.

Governments must also make an effort to solve the problem of physical inactivity as it is a large-scale pandemic with little to none punctual solutions. There is plenty of research to support the fact that physical activity is vital to keep a healthy lifestyle, all that is needed is to take the results in consideration and ensure that people partake in healthy daily activities.

It is not easy, as people seem to enjoy not doing much with their bodies. The research noted that a sedentary behavior of watching over 3 hours of TV per day was associated with an increased mortality rate in all surveyed individuals. It may not suggest that watching TV is lethal, but it is a signal of a person who has a sedentary lifestyle, which is all but healthy. 150 minutes per week is all that is needed, equivalent to watching a couple episodes of your favorite series on Netflix.

Source: The Lancet