Nearly a third of adults world-wide do not do enough physical activity according to a series of newly published studies in the British medical journal The Lancet. Some 5.3 million people die every year from inactivity, which causes an estimated six percent of heart disease, seven percent of type 2 diabetes (the most common form) and 10 percent of breast and colon cancers.
Inactivity was defined as failing to do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week, 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week, or a combination of the two.
Four out of five adolescents are not getting enough exercise; among those 15 and over, three of every 10 (about 1.5 billion people) get insufficient exercise. Men are more likely to be active than woman, inactivity increases with age and is more prevalent in wealthy countries.
Exercise helps the bones, muscles, heart and other organs function best and has been linked to lowering depression and enhancing students’ performance in school.
How Much Of a Sloth Are You?
The Guardian has published the data for what could be called a “laziness index.” Here’s the figures for industrialized countries:
• In Canada, 34% of adults are inactive; in the US, 41%.
• In the UK, 63.3% of adults are inactive; in Serbia, 68.3%; in Malta, 71.9%.
• The most active countries in Europe are Greece, where 16% are inactive, Estonia (17%) and the Netherlands (18%).
Here are inactivity rates for a selection of countries in Africa, Latin American and Asia
• In Mozambique, 7.1% of adults are inactive; in Kenya, 16.5%; in Niger, 29.3%; in Algeria, 40.5%.
• In Guatemala, 16.2% of adults are inactive; in Brazil, 49.2%; in Argentina, 68.3% (the same as in the UK).
• In Bangladesh, 4.7% of adults are inactive; in the Philippines, 23.7%; in China, 31%; in Japan, 60.2%.
The contrasts between wealthy and developing nations are especially striking and offer further (unfortunate) evidence of how exporting a western diet and lifestyle portend poorly for global health.
What Can We Do?
On a more positive note, one study suggests strategies and policies to promote physical activity such as mass-media campaigns and support for physical activity in schools and in communities. Also encouraged are changes in the built environment and urban planning including “community-scale and street-scale urban design and land use, active transport policy and practices, and community-wide policies and planning.” One example is Ciclovia, an initiative in the Columbian capital of Bogota: On Sundays and holidays, the usually traffic-filled streets in the city’s center are vehicle-free. A million residents now walk around on Sundays; a fifth say they would not except for Ciclovia, according to the BBC.
Socially, being inactive is perceived as normal, and in fact doctors order patients to remain on bed rest far more often than they encourage exercise. This passive attitude towards inactivity, where exercise is viewed as a personal choice, is anachronistic, and is reminiscent of the battles still being fought over smoking.
The Lancet timed the publishing of the physical activity series with the 2012 Olympics. Certainly many people will be watching the games, whether in the stadiums or from their own couches. But clearly many of us need to engage less in spectator sorts and get up and get ourselves moving at least citius — faster — if not altius and fortius — ever higher and with more strength!
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Photo by Alex E. Proimos
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