Some actions, such as hopping in your car to go to the bakery, may be putting your life at risk. This week in the online journal, Galileu, Professor I-Min Lee, from the School of Public Health at Harvard University, draws attention to a serious problem that humanity must face in the coming years: the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle. She warned that a third of people who do not engage in exercise regularly occupy a dangerous risk zone.
To try to understand the magnitude of the problem, researchers studied the relationship between physical inactivity and the leading non-communicable diseases that kill people worldwide. The conditions chosen were those that the United Nations World Health Organization identifies as global health threats: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer (specifically breast and colon cancer, which have been linked to physical inactivity). The results revealed that 6% to 10% of disease cases are caused by the inactivity.
The researchers also estimated how many deaths could be avoided if each inactive person were to become physically active, as well as the impact of this measure on average life expectancy around the world. They concluded that if the periods of inactivity were completely abolished, we could save 5.3 million lives per year, and the average global life expectancy would extend 6 months and 24 days.
To get an idea of what this means, these results can be compared with the statistics of cigarette usage — widely accepted as a health risk. Smoking causes about 5 million deaths per year worldwide, according to Dr. Lee — slightly less than the 5.3 million lives lost in the same period, due to lack of regular exercise!
It does not take an “athlete”
Dr, Lee, who also co-authored a series of studies on physical inactivity published last year in the scientific journal, The Lancet, ensures that living healthy is simpler than it seems. Studies show that devoting 150 minutes per week to moderate exercise is enough, i.e. less than a half-hour walk five times a week would take a person out of the sedentary category.
“Many people also questions what are moderate activities,” explains Dr. Lee, “ The tip I like to give is that you need to feel your heartbeat increase enough that you can still hold a conversation with a friend but not have enough breath to sing. Any exercise that fits that profile is valid: swimming, biking…”
Besides sports, other basic activities can help improve the quality of life and prevent disease. “Gardening, dancing, playing with the kids, walking the dog, or walking to work,” added Dr. Lee, “are also included in this category [and] contribute to health. Initiating them and keeping them in everyday life is as good a deal as stopping smoking.”