After yesterday’s discussion about the benefits of a brisk walk, I thought I’d spend some time today on an equally important message: Walking at any pace—heck, doing anything at all—will always be better than sitting still.
In fact, recently published research shows that a sedentary lifestyle—also known as “sitting disease”—is responsible for eight percent of all chronic disease and death. That’s one in every 14 deaths being attributed to inactivity!
And while that should be enough to convince anyone to get up and start moving, allow me to drive the point home with a few additional details…
Inactivity is a global threat
This study defined physical inactivity as fewer than the standard recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, per week. In other words, it didn’t look at a completely sedentary lifestyle.
Nevertheless, researchers concluded that even this level of inactivity caused just over seven percent of both cardiovascular disease deaths, and deaths by any cause.
The data covered 15 different health outcomes in populations from 168 countries—so it’s hard to dismiss the findings as a fluke. If anything, it’s remarkable that despite vastly different lifestyles in these various countries, lack of exercise remained a leading cause of death.
In fact, some 69 percent of total deaths and 74 percent of heart disease deaths were linked with lack of physical activity in middle-income regions of Latin America and the Caribbean.
And with most of the previous research on this subject having been limited to rich countries alone, it was nice to have a broader view for a change—and to see that, just like smoking, being sedentary is lethal no matter where you live.
The bottom line? Exercise and movement need to become the norm—across the globe— not the exception.
No gym membership required
Of course, as I mentioned above, these researchers looked at a vast array of data, looking for links between a sedentary lifestyle and a number of lethal conditions—not just all-cause and heart disease mortality. They also looked at depression, coronary artery disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, gastric, and renal cancers.
It’s a long list, to say the least. And the evidence points to an association between sitting disease and at least ten of these chronic diseases.
Now, I realize that American medicine in particular loathes the idea of preventing illness. We’d much rather wait to get sick and then treat the problem with an expensive band-aid—all while ignoring the root cause, which is almost always simple to address.
But you simply can’t argue with the lifesaving power of plain old regular physical activity. So why on earth don’t more of us move regularly? And why is exercise always the first thing to go when we’re pressed for time?
Here’s a sad fact: Even though Americans report an average of five hours of daily free time, they spend less than 24 minutes of that on physical activity.
To be clear, exercise and physical activity aren’t always the same thing. Exercise is just one form of physical activity. But staying active could also take the form of walking, biking, taking the stairs, or gardening/working in the yard.
None of these things require a gym membership. On the contrary, it’s a lifestyle—one that you choose, consistently, every day.
It’s funny, because as I write this, I can look out my window to see the sun shining and tons of people running and exercising in the parks. (Most with masks, I’m pleased to report!)
And it strikes me: Your typical type A Manhattanites can’t go a day without exercise (and without getting out of their tiny apartments). And not coincidentally, we also have the lowest obesity rate in the nation, at a mere eight percent below 96th street.
Now just imagine all the lives and healthcare dollars that could be saved if everyone in the country did the same.
P.S. I talk more about the lethal risks of a sedentary lifestyle—and how you can start aging younger in just 20 minutes a day—in the February 2014 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives (“The silent epidemic stealing your youth”). Subscribers have access to this and everything I’ve ever written in the archives. So if you haven’t already, consider signing up today. Click here now!
“Inactivity Drives 1 in 14 Deaths Globally, New Data Suggest.” Medscape Medical News, 03/31/2021. (medscape.com/viewarticle/948439)