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Watch for health risks of inactivity

Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

According to a recent news release from The American Journal of Medicine, our lack of activity – not excess calories – might explain why a growing number of Americans are becoming obese.

Researchers analyzed 20 years’ worth of data and found that the average number of calories we consume each day has not changed much over that time, but the number of men and women who report that they get no physical activity has increased dramatically.

In 1994, about 19 percent of women reported that they got no physical activity. In 2010, that figure rose to nearly 52 percent. For men, the percentage rose from about 11 to 43 percent.

During the study period, the average body mass index (BMI) for adults increased dramatically. BMI is an estimate of overall body fat, based on your height and weight. The largest increase was seen among women 18 to 39. The researchers also found that abdominal obesity increased in men and women alike. 

But obesity is not the only concern when it comes to being inactive. Experts who study the health effects of physical inactivity declare that it plays a role in almost every chronic disease.

According to James Levine, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, “We know that as soon as somebody gets out of their chair, their blood sugar improves, their blood cholesterol and triglycerides improve, and that’s very consistent. Every time you get up, it gets better. Every time you sit down, it gets worse.”

We can blame our increasingly inactive lives on technology, lack of facilities, fewer physically demanding jobs, or whatever you will. What this points out is that more of us need to make an effort to get up off the couch and find ways to move our bodies. 

The good news is that you do not have to spend hours and hours working out. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, such as walking or riding a bike, can help.  Gardening and cleaning house can also contribute to your total.  

At all costs, avoid sitting for long periods of time. Research has found that the more hours you spend sitting, the more likely it is that you will die an untimely death. Even if you work out regularly, you will still have a higher risk for early death if you spend too many of your non-exercise hours sitting.  

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