Sedentary Lifestyles Taking Toll on Global Population

Patient Expert

What is the world coming to? We'd like to think, especially with the onset of the Olympic Games, that we're a fit population. However, the answer, it seems, is that a significant number of the world's population are leading a sedentary lifestyle and that 5.3 million people died due to inactivity in 2008. That number matches the number of people from around the world who die from smoking.

MedLine Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, reports that a special physical activity-themed issue of The Lancet features four research papers that document the issue of world-wide inactivity. They found that approximately 1.5 billion people around the world who do not engage in routine physical activity totally a minimum of 150 minutes weekly have a 20-30 percent increased risk for disease. Furthermore, 80 percent of adolescents world-wide have a sedentary lifestyle.

However, the research papers note that inactivity levels differ between regions of the globe. Southeast Asians are some of the most active populations with only 17 percent being classified as inactive. Other countries with low levels of inactivity include The Netherlands (17 percent) and Estonia (18 percent). In comparison, 43 percent of North Americans are inactive, as well as 70 percent of the residents of both Malta and Serbia.

The researchers found that heart disease due to inactivity was highest in Europe (121,000 fatalities), whereas North American had 60,000 cases of this type of death and the eastern Mediterranean had 44,000 cases. The researchers also noted that if just 10 percent more people internationally became active, the number of deaths related to inactivity could decline by up to 533,000 people.

Perhaps this information makes you recommit to being active. However, what if you can't afford a gym membership in the current economy? Or what if you live in a small town that isn't served by a grocery store that is well-stocked with healthy produce? How can you stay healthy? The Weight-Control Information Network, which is a national information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases that is part of the National Institutes of Health, has developed a booklet that provides some recommendations. These include:

  • You can get aerobic exercise through walking, hiking, jogging and biking.
  • You can build muscles through strength training by doing specific exercises such as arm curls and squats using full gallon-size water bottles, soup cans or large books instead of weights.
  • Household chores also are another source of activity. Examples of these chores include washing the car, raking leaves, sweeping floors, cleaning the house and mowing the lawn.

The brochure recommends that you try a variety of activities and then adopt the ones you like so you'll do them regularly. Also, involve your family, friends and coworkers in active outings. You also may need to schedule your exercise during the day so that it's a priority. "Start with a small goal of being active for 10 minutes a day, and then slowly build up to longer periods of time," the brochure recommends. "As you build more physical activity into your life, set limits on the amount of time you and your family spend watching TV, playing video games, and using the computer."

The network also encourages you to embrace a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits as well as other foods that are in season, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables without additional salt, and canned beans. The booklet also encourages people to differentiate between a portion size (which is how much food you opt to eat at one time) and a serving size (which is the amount of food listed on the production's label).

Thinking about activity in small chunks and easily-prepared healthy food choices may make it easier for you to integrate these life-saving steps into daily life.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Mozes, A. (2012). Inactivity may kill as many worldwide as smoking: report. Medline Plus.

Weight-Control Information Network. (2012). The world around you: use what you have to stay healthy and fit.   National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.