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How much does inactivity cost the American public?

Sit down—this may come as a shock to you. Americans spend an average of eight hours a day in a sedentary mode. Shocking? My guess is that it is not even remotely a surprise. Whether a person is obese or of normal weight, the figures are staggering, however, when it comes to daily exercise.

In a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic and reported on in February 2014, lead author Edward C. Archer from the University of Alabama, a nutrition and obesity researcher, concluded that, “We’ve engineered our physical activity out of our daily lives and that’s causing the health disparities that we have in this country.” As reported, “The data tested whether an indirect measure of energy expenditure, based on metabolism of water, stood up to other measurements in the field—or on the couch, as it turns out.” The results of the study were depressing.

The most shocking finding in this report is that obese women averaged about 11 seconds a day of vigorous exercise. Eleven seconds! What was that exercise--running to the bathroom or running to catch a bus? Even people who were not overweight did not fare much better; they exercised vigorously (a jog or uphill brisk walk) for fewer than two minutes a day. But for the obese, it is a destructive cycle--no exercise equals weight gain. Pretty simple and inevitable.

Folks who exercised moderately fared better. Moderate exercise would include yoga, golf, leisurely walking where you can still hold a conversation. Those men and women (the study looked at nearly 2,600 people) engaged in 2½ to 4 hours of moderate exercise weekly. That data was closer to the federally recommended guidelines of 30 minutes a day; however, those 30 minutes are supposed to be moderate-intensity aerobic activity combined with muscle-strengthening exercises (e.g., weight lifting). The federal government (CDC) also recommends 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly.
If you are wondering what defines sedentary behavior, then you have not been paying attention to all the information out there on exercise. If you are just sitting, driving, watching TV—in short, not moving and up and about—you are sedentary.

Our ancestors were physically active, and if you are wondering how active, you might want to rent the movie, “Meek’s Cutoff,” where you can watch settlers walking alongside their wagons in the Oregon desert in 1845. Those people led a very hard life. Until this country pretty much farmed out its agricultural needs to other nations, people were physically active because that is what jobs required. But today, people sit in front of a computer screen all day, and then come home to sit in front of the TV all evening.

Indeed, in a study reported on July 7, 2014, cardiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that sedentary behaviors may lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels. “New evidence suggests that two hours of sedentary behavior can be just as harmful as 20 minutes of exercise is beneficial.” Now that is an indictment if there ever were one. In short, if you are spending 30 minutes walking or on the treadmill and then ‘treating’ yourself to a slice of key lime pie, well…you get the point. One quick tip that anyone can do—whenever you make or take a phone call, stand up! Balance on one leg. Move your arms. Do something EXCEPT sit down when on the phone. (Your calls just might get shorter and you just might get more work done, too!)

Statistics can speak to us all day, and you can ignore them, too. But the take-away here is not that some percentage of the population is sedentary, which is not good and we all know that, but what YOU are doing to improve your health and maintain a good quality of life into your golden years. The fact that 80 percent of American adults do not get the recommended exercise should be of concern to you. Your tax dollars are going to treat illnesses caused by being obese. A 2012 study linked physical inactivity to more than 5 million deaths worldwide per year, more than those caused by smoking.

Obesity-related diseases and health problems account for 61% of healthcare costs in the U.S. annually. The costs are a staggering $147 BILLION each year, stressing the economy and the healthcare system. We are headed for disaster, as our healthcare system cannot cover these damages. How much of your personal income is going to treat illnesses related to being overweight or obese? Are you spending your money wisely on healthy food?

As we celebrate Labor Day (which ought to be renamed to Leisure Day), do incorporate some physical activity into your free time--not just today, but every day.

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