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Is Sitting the New Smoking?

There's nothing quite like spending the day relaxing relaxing on the couch...or is there?

There has been a lot of buzz lately about inactivity and the effects of living a sedentary lifestyle. Some even go so far as to call American's couch potato culture a pandemic. It's not only a problem for Americans, it has become a global issue as well. In fact, it's estimated that 1 out of every 10 premature deaths is caused by inactivity. Inactivity now beats smoking as a leading contributor in premature death. "Inactivity plays a role in almost every chronic disease there is," says John P. Thyfault, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri's School of Medicine.

How much physical activity do we need?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines inactivity as "less than 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking". Recent studies have shown that approximately 50% of US women and 40% of US men do not get enough physical activity. Simply walking briskly for 15-30 per day may be enough to get back on track.   According to I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead researcher on the study being published online in The Lancetif the average person spent less that 3 hours per day sitting, it could increase their life expectancy by 2 years. Like to sit and watch TV? Spending less than 2 hours on the couch watching TV can add another 1.4 years.

How Does This Impact People with Disabilities?

There are over a billion people worldwide with disabilities. In the USA, adults with a disability were twice as likely to be physically inactive than were those with no disability. Engaging in physical activity can be a challenging task but is every bit as important, if not more. There are many products aimed at keeping those with limited moblity active, like the HealthSmart pedal exerciser, which lets you pedal with your legs from a sitting position.

Being creative and always finding fun new ways of incorporating activity is a must. We, as a society, also need to provide access to programs in schools and communities to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

Why Have We Become So Inactive?

We can blame TV, the internet, video games; the list goes on and on. Our ever changing lifestyles and communities have had a big impact on the amount of activity we get.

  • We now drive instead of walk or ride our bike to the store or work
  • Lack of community parks, sidewalks, and recreation facilities
  • Cut backs in PE in schools
  • Parents don't feel safe letting their kids play outside or ride bikes through the neighborhood

Easy Ways to Become More Active

Becoming more active doesn't mean you have to join a gym or train like an Olympic athlete. Any type of activity is better than nothing. Gardening, dancing, even cleaning can have health benefits. Other ways to be active are:

  • Use a pedometer and set a daily goal of 10,000 steps
  • Replace family TV time with a family walk once or twice a week
  • Get up and walk to your co-worker instead of sending an email
  • Take the stairs
  • Park far away from entrances

 Russell Pate, an exercise researcher at the University of South Carolina, says "We need everybody to understand and appreciate just how important physical activity is. It's on everyone's list of positive health behaviors, but it's not as high on the list as it should be."

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