Weight Management Counseling and Support Services
Inactivity and Your Health: the Risks
Advice to “consult your physician before you begin an exercise program” is regularly given. This advice is important, especially for older individuals or people with underlying health problems – particularly if they want to engage in vigorous physical activity. However, more important advice might be to “talk to your physician first and get permission if you plan to stay sedentary” because the hazards of being sedentary are clear:
1. Your risk of getting diabetes doubles. Physical activity helps to prevent insulin resistance, the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. It was reported in one study that the risk of diabetes increased 14% for every 2 hours a person watched television each day.
2. Your risk of cancer increases. Sedentary people have a greater risk of developing breast cancer and pancreatic cancer increases; they are 30-40% more likely to develop colon cancer. Some studies have shown a decrease in cancer-related deaths in people who are fit compared to those that are not fit.
3. Your brain may turn to mush. Okay, maybe this is a bit dramatic, but research shows that physical activity helps prevent a decline in cognitive functioning and dementia. Exercising just 3 times per week decreases your chances of developing dementia by 32%.
4. Your risk of a heart attack increases. Exercise strengthens your heart and keeps it healthy. A study by Harvard found that nurses who walked 3 or more hours per week (30 minutes per day) had half as many heart attacks as those who did not have a regular walking program. Face it, couch potatoes are simply a heart attack waiting to happen.
5. Your risk of stroke increases. The Aerobic Research Center data showed that men who were active reduced their risk of stroke by two-thirds. Likewise, the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study showed that active women dropped their risk of stroke by 50%.
6. You lose muscle. The old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true. The best way to lose muscle mass (which eventually leads to not even having enough strength to function properly in your daily life) is to be sedentary. If you want to stay out of the nursing home, get regular exercise that includes strength training (with core training and balance training).
7. Your bones weaken. Beginning after the ages of 25-30, our bones become weaker each year. This process is accelerated in inactive people. In fact, weak bones account for 1.5 million fractures per year. Just like muscles, bones need regular exercise to maintain their mineral content and strength. The best activities for bone health and weight-bearing activities and weight lifting.
8. You’re more likely to become depressed. Inactive people get depressed more often than people who are physically active; physical activity is not just about your muscles, it’s about your brain and is a good way to elevate your mood.
9. You’re more likely to gain excess weight. If you don’t exercise, you’re going to grow. Nearly two-thirds of the population is now considered to be overweight, leading to numerous other health problems. One study found that walking for one hour daily reduced the risk of obesity by 24%.
10. Your immune system is depressed. Your immune system fights disease and illness to keep you healthy. People who get regular moderate physical activity have the highest functioning immune systems. But don’t over-do it, as this can lead to exhaustion and decreased immunity.
If you’re still determined to be inactive, then you might want to have a long chat with your healthcare provider because you’re headed down a long, expensive, and dangerous journey. If you’re finally convinced that staying on the couch isn’t safe for you, start slow by putting on a pedometer and gradually increasing your steps. There are many resources on this web site available for you to help you get going. In other words, your excuses have run out!
Source: The Cost of Inactivity, Nutrition Action Health Letter, Dec. 2005.