Sedentary Lives Can Be Deadly: Physical Inactivity Poses Greatest Health Risk To Americans, Expert Says
many as 50 million Americans are living sedentary lives, putting them
at increased risk of health problems and even early death, a leading
expert in exercise science told the American Psychological Association
at APA's 117th Annual Convention, Steven Blair, PED, called Americans'
physical inactivity "the biggest public health problem of the 21st
is a professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University
of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health. He is one of the
world's premier experts on exercise and its health benefits and was the
senior scientific editor of the 1996 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on
Physical Activity and Health.
has shown approximately 25 percent to 35 percent of American adults are
inactive, Blair said, meaning that they have sedentary jobs, no regular
physical activity program and are generally inactive around the house
or yard. "This amounts to 40 million to 50 million people exposed to
the hazard of inactivity," Blair said in an interview. "Given that
these individuals are doubling their risk of developing numerous health
conditions compared with those who are even moderately active and fit,
we're looking at a major public health problem."
extensive research comes primarily from the Aerobics Center
Longitudinal Study (ACLS), in which he found that fitness level was a
significant predictor of mortality. The ongoing study began in 1970 and
includes more than 80,000 patients. The researchers periodically
measured the participants' body composition and body mass index, and
each patient underwent a stress test. Researchers also looked at
numerous other factors including the participants' medical histories.
follow-up study of 40,842 longitudinal study participants showed poor
fitness level accounted for about 16 percent of all deaths in both men
and women. The percentage was calculated by estimating the number of
deaths that would have been avoided if people had spent 30 minutes a
day walking. This percentage was significantly higher than when other
risk factors were considered, including obesity, smoking, high
cholesterol and diabetes. The ACLS also found that moderately fit men
lived six years longer than unfit men.
examination of 14,811 female patients in the ACLS showed that women who
were very fit were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer
than women who were not in good shape. This was after the researchers
had controlled for BMI, smoking, family history of breast cancer and
other possible risk factors.
also highlighted the benefits of exercise on the mind, referring to
recent emerging evidence that activity delays the mind's decline and is
good for brain health overall. Blair said he thinks psychologists can
be integral in helping patients understand the health hazards of being
inactive and encouraging people to look for more ways to get moving.
"Over the past few decades, we have largely engineered the need for
physical activity out of the daily lives of most people
inindustrialized societies," said Blair.
message should be simple, he said: Doing something is better than doing
nothing, and doing more is better than doing less, at least up to a
point. "We need numerous changes to promote more physical activity for
all, including public policies, changes in the health care system,
promoting activity in educational settings and worksites, and social
and physical environmental changes. We need more communities where
people feel comfortable walking. I believe psychologists can help
develop better lifestyle change interventions to help people be more
active via the Internet and other technological methods."
For more information on the American Psychological Association, visit www.apa.org.