Physical inactivity has become increasingly prevalent in modern society. According to the World Health Organization, 60 to 85% of people in the world – from both developed and developing countries – lead sedentary lifestyles. As a result, physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6% of deaths globally).
In the United States, this isn’t really hard to believe when considering the lifestyle of the average American. When we’re not sleeping, we spend most our waking hours sitting, whether it be commuting, working, eating & drinking, or socializing. In fact, according to a 2008 Vanderbilt University study, the average American spends 55% (or 7.7 hours) of their waking time in sedentary behaviors such as sitting. Couple that with the fact that the average American today watches more than five hours of live television every day and the problem becomes a bit more clear.
Simply put, we suffer from “Sitting Disease,” a term coined by the scientific community to refer to the ill-effects of living an overly sedentary lifestyle. The associated risks are numerous. Doubling the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, as well as increasing the risk of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety. To put things into perspective, and as stated by Martha Grogan, cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.” Thus, it’s no surprise to learn that heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States.
Understanding the risks associated with being overly sedentary, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) for Americans back in 2008. The PAG was built on the principle that regular physical activity helps improve one’s overall health and fitness, while reducing risks for many chronic diseases. The guidelines are tailored to meet individual interests, lifestyles, and goals, recommending as little as 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking. That equates to just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Essentially, the guidelines serve to enforce that regular physical activity over months and years can produce long-term health benefits.
Yet even with the bar set so low, Americans still aren’t getting enough exercise. In a 2013 checkup of the nation’s health, the CDC found that only 1 in 5 American adults meet the 2008 federal Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.
For the sake of simplicity, walking 30 minutes a day (10,000 steps) is perhaps one of the most underrated exercises available for improving one’s health. Best of all, it has an extremely low barrier of entry; it’s low impact, convenient, and costs nothing. Furthermore, with the increased popularity of fitness devices such as Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, and Jawbone, as well as a myriad of free mobile applications, tracking physical activity has never been easier.
While 10,000 steps might seem like a lot, consider the fact that even very sedentary people are able to achieve 5,000-6,000 steps per day. Should you find yourself at the lower end of the spectrum, simply bread crumb your way up to 10,000 by finding ways to add a few hundred steps to your daily routine until you get there. Your walking also doesn’t have to be done all at once. The beauty about the PAG guidelines are that the recommendations are cumulative, so you have all day to hit your goal of 10,000 steps. This is where all those health devices and pedometers come in handy in helping you push yourself further to better health goals.
Ultimately, being physically active is one of the most important steps people of all ages can take to improve their health. Walking as little as 30 minutes a day can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancers, and diabetes, while also helping to maintain weight, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve mental health and mood. In short, the benefits of regular physical activity far outweigh the possibility of adverse outcomes.
CDC. (2014, May). Facts about Physical Activity. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
HHS. (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Hinckley, D. (2014, March). Average American Watches 5 Hours of TV per day. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from Daily News.
Just Stand (2010). Sitting Disease by the Numbers. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from Just Stand.
McDowell, D. (2013, October). How Many Steps per Day to Lose Weight. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from Livestrong.
Sebelius, K., Frieden, T. R., & Rothwell, C. J. (2011). Health, United States, 2013. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WHO. (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from the World Health Organization.
WHO. (2002, April). Physical Inactivity a Leading Cause of Disease and Disability. Retrieved July 9th, 2014, from the World Health Organization.