LAZINESS IS KILLING US: An Opinion On How Inactivity is Affecting Our Life Span and Our Children

3f52b5f0448c5aa0_dv2014006.previewGetting the kids outside to play used to be easy. Now, it’s almost impossible.

Two thousand years ago, Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine hit the nail on the head. He said, that if we all had “the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health”. Bingo.

Obviously then, being a species of great intellect, over the next two millennia we took on his sensible advice, integrating exercise into our daily life and cashing in on the rewards for our bodies and minds. Hmm, maybe we didn’t quite all get that memo. Instead something else happened and physical inactivity grew into the fourth largest global killer in the world (according to the World Health Organisation), with some claiming it takes more lives than smoking, diabetes and obesity combined.

Yes, physical inactivity has its price tags. It is linked to the development of chronic health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, dementia and cancer. It can make us feel bad about ourselves, guilty and frustrated, appeased only with the ever alluring reward of inactivity – comfort, rest and stress-free. Our creaking NHS too gets a bill that would make anyone wince reaching for their wallet – somewhere between £8 and £20 billion per year through both the direct and indirect healthcare costs including that on the economy. Ouch.

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The third price tag, and possibly most in need of an active not passive reaction, is the generational one. There is growing over the degree of inactivity in children with precipitants embedded within our shift to a more sedentary lifestyle, fear and risk associated with outdoor play, and the advent of more advanced and ‘real-life replacement’ for one in four children who see online social networking and gaming as their activity. Even more sobering is the evidence that suggests many children still have a negative approach to physical activity in schools, with teachers believing that nearly half of primary school pupils leaving school without “basic movement skills”, and that more than one in three children dislike exercise by the time they leave primary school. These barriers can potentially frame their adult sedentary life. A high price tag indeed.

Make no mistake, these are massive, insidious, chronic alarm bells. So it’s no surprise that in an effort to stem the physical inactivity shock-wave, there is an increasingly louder call from healthcare, academic and government sectors to seed physical activity firmly at the heart of our healthcare system.

You know it makes me wonder if Hippocrates and those after him could ever have foreseen such a crisis point. Then again that’s not what worries me as a doctor. What worries me is why so many of us are still not getting its importance to our lives? Or then again, is it simply a change in our psychology to life, to our society, and to our drive to fix this crevassing “knowing-doing” gap?

Right then, here’s a question – how big do you think this gap is? I agree, it is a vague question. However one way to answer it is to consider what the national physical activity guidelines, as set out by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), actually expect us to do each week. I warn you, for some of us (including me on some weeks) this may prove an entertaining read. So if you’re between 19 to 65 years, all raise your hands if, each week, you are moderately active (e.g. a brisk walk) for 30 minutes a day for 5 days and complete 2 muscle strengthening sessions? I reckon there are still some hands resting neatly on laps or pockets. Well, in fact, in the UK, 60-70% of us take insufficient exercise. You can’t run away from that fact. (And you might not fancy running, anyway).

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