Physical Inactivity – The #1 Health Problem of Our Time

physical inactivity

Physical inactivity is “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century.”

Bigger than smoking? Obesity? Stress? Apparently so.

That’s what Dr. Steven Blair had to say at an annual convention of the American Psychological Association (back in 2009). He’s one of the foremost experts on the relationship of lifestyle to our health.

A quick online search of “dangers of physical inactivity” shows that this isn’t just an American problem. Many are calling it a worldwide pandemic.

Not surprising, the numbers are higher in wealthier countries

According to a article from 2012, 31% of adults around the world aren’t getting the minimum recommended amount of physical activity.

“The Americas” are the most sedentary of them all (the study included 122 countries).

In America that jumps to 43%…That’s almost half of Americans!

For teens it’s even worse. 4 out of 5 teens (worldwide) don’t get the recommended amount of exercise. That’s 80% of them.

What’s so great about physical activity? (and therefore bad about inactivity)

Being physically active as a lifestyle lowers your risk — in some cases dramatically — of all kinds of diseases and health issues. Here’s a short list to begin with:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Prostate, lung and endometrial cancers were less conclusive, but several studies have shown an inverse correlation between physical activity and these types of cancers
  • Osteoporosis (and bone fractures)
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s

(“Physical Inactivity: Associated Diseases and Disorders” by Joseph A. Knight M.D.)

On the flip side, combining a sedentary lifestyle to other major health problems like smoking, obesity and high stress, you’re multiplying your chances of inviting some of those diseases into your life.

As we get older…

Some of the diseases and conditions we associate with aging are really diseases and conditions associated with a lifetime of physical inactivity.

Here’s a quote (of a quote) from an article on

“Regular physical activity has also been associated with greater longevity as well as reduced risk of physical disability and dependence, the most important health outcome, even more than death, for most older people…”

The good news? We can do something about it.

What’s the recommended amount of exercise?

A minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise is what I hear and read the most. More vigorous intensity (i.e., running instead of walking) and even 75 minutes a week will make a difference.

That’s 30 minutes five days a week. And unless you’re working to build your endurance (for something like a race), the 30 minutes doesn’t need to be all at once. Splitting it into three 10-minute sessions apparently gives you the same health benefits as a 30-minute session.

How doable is that? Very doable.

Better? The Institute of Medicine recommends one hour of activity daily, including both aerobic (exercises that make you breath hard) and resistance (strength training). That’s especially true if you want it to make a difference in weight management.

How will you take action?

I’m quite sure you’ve heard all this before. We’re the most educated and informed people in the history of this planet after all. As you’ve seen, that hasn’t stopped us from also being the most sedentary. And older women worst of all.

But…if you’ve not already developed a lifestyle of regular physical activity, hopefully this will remind you and spur you on to do so starting today.

This isn’t about being buff and ready to run 10 marathons this year…it’s about a quality of life that makes it possible for us to keep working…keep up with our children and grandchildren…continue on in whatever ministry we’re called to — well into old age. Until the Lord calls us home.

Physical activity isn’t the only thing that matters, of course. Diet is hugely important. So is our thought life and how we handle stress. And none of that is as important as the condition of our spirits.

But God gave us only one body to live in while we’re here. I don’t want to be responsible for not being able to fulfill all of what God’s got for me to do because of preventable health issues. I don’t think you do either.

One of my favorite authors these days is John Maxwell. In his book Today Matters, he writes:

“The way you live today impacts your tomorrow…Hoping for a good future without investing in today is like a farmer waiting for a crop without ever planting any seed.”

So go plant some seeds for your healthier future!

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