Get up, get moving, get healthy

By Jasminee Sahoye

Exercise does more than burn calories – it can prolong your life, experts say.
Exercise does more than burn calories – it can prolong your life, experts say.

From an early age, we are told exercise is important for healthy growth and development, yet statistics show a large number of obese children and adults in our society and one of the main causes is a lack of physical exercise.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says activity plays an important role in the health, well-being and quality of life of Canadians and helps to prevent chronic diseases like cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life.

For adults aged 18-64, physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of over 25 chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

“Regular physical activity and higher levels of fitness allow daily tasks to be accomplished with greater ease and comfort and with less fatigue. Research shows that as much as half the functional decline between the ages of 30 and 70 is due not to aging itself but to an inactive way of life,” the agency says.

When it comes to adults 65 and older, weight-bearing physical activity reduces the rate of bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Regular activity maintains strength and flexibility, balance and co-ordination, and can help reduce the risk of falls.

A Harvard School of Public Health article reasons that if exercise and regular physical activity benefit the body, a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite, increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a number of chronic diseases.

According to analyses by a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, inactivity was associated with more than 9 million cases of cardiovascular disease in 2001 in the States, at an estimated direct medical cost of nearly $24 billion. Another CDC analysis suggests that because individuals who are physically active have significantly lower annual direct medical costs than those who are inactive, getting people to become more active could cut yearly medical costs in the U.S. by more than $70 billion.

The Harvard article states that being a “couch potato” may be harmful even for people who get regular exercise.

Researchers followed more than 50,000 middle-aged women for six years, surveying their diet and activity habits. They found that for every two hours the women spent watching TV each day, they had a 23% higher risk of becoming obese and 14% higher risk of developing diabetes.

Interestingly, it didn’t matter if the women were avid exercisers: The more television they watched, the more likely they were to gain weight or develop diabetes, regardless of how much leisure-time activity and walking they did. Long hours of sitting at work also increased the risk of obesity and diabetes.

Other studies have found that people who spend more time each day watching TV, sitting, or riding in cars have a greater chance of dying early than people who spend less time on their duffs. Researchers speculate that sitting for hours on end may change peoples’ metabolism in ways that promote obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.