Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Cost of Inactivity

To stay healthy throughout life, you've got to move it! 
Very few things in life are static, especially the human body. From birth through old age, the body is continually changing. It is important to realize that when we put off regular exercise, our bodies are not just frozen in time, they’re fading. Physical activity stimulates most organs to work at their best. We are made to move, and if we don’t, all body systems are affected, right down to the cellular level, where our ability to transfer oxygen for energy can be diminished. This is evident in a person's inability to run between airline gates to catch a connecting flight, or carry laundry baskets up and down the stairs. Inactivity impacts the brain, muscles, heart, blood vessels, bones, liver, gut, sleep, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and the ability to use glucose (to name a few).


Insulin sensitivity deteriorates with inactivity. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to utilize the insulin it produces. The cells of the body become insulin resistant. Insulin carries sugar from the blood into the cells of the body. Without the ability to do this, blood sugar levels rise and diabetes develops.

Type 2 diabetes is a sedentary disease, in that regular exercise reverses the damage. Insulin sensitivity increases with exercise and the cells of the body become better at taking in and processing glucose. The impact of activity on diabetes is striking. Every two hours of weekly TV watching is linked to a 14% increase in the risk of diabetes. Conversely, every hour of brisk walking per week confers a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes. That’s something to think about the next time you are too tired or busy to put on your athletic shoes.

The Heart

Exercise affects the heart in several ways. Not only does it strengthen the pump, but it also impacts the pipes. In recent years, researchers have discovered that physical activity makes the lining of blood vessels more flexible, from the largest artery to the smallest capillaries. This allows blood vessels to relax, permitting more blood to be sent to the heart. Think of it in terms of pumping blood through a rubber hose instead of a concrete pipe. This is particularly important if a vessel is partially blocked.

Regular exercise also increases HDL (good) cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that leaves the arteries instead of sticking to them. For those who already have heart disease, exercise can lower your risk of dying from it. Take that to heart!


Active people are 25% less likely to have a stroke than sedentary folks.

Exercise affects the arteries to the brain in the same way as the heart. Most strokes occur when a blood clot gets stuck in a partially blocked artery leading to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. High blood pressure is a risk factor for any type of stroke, and regular aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure in 75% of people.


If you don’t use it, you lose it. The metabolic cost of maintaining muscle is high. Muscles require a lot of energy, so if you don’t use them, they become a luxury for the body to maintain. As we age, we become increasingly inactive and lose muscle mass. Anyone can rebuild muscle with strength training. The earlier you start, the better, but even those of advanced age can benefit from carefully pumping a little iron. Strong muscles can help to prevent the frailty that makes older people lose their independence. Regular exercise is one way to stay out of a nursing home.


Inactivity and weight gain go hand in hand. When you lose your muscle mass because of inactivity, you need less energy (calories) to maintain what is left. Due to inactivity, it becomes possible to gain weight with a modest calorie intake, and nearly impossible to lose weight. The rate of weight gain is slow, perhaps 1-5 pounds a year, but over 10 years the pounds add up and the loss of physical fitness is significant.

In order to avoid becoming overweight or obese, 45-60 minutes a day of physical activity is needed. If you’re already overweight or have lost a lot of weight, you need more – between 60-90 minutes of physical activity a day to avoid regaining weight. If this seems daunting, just 30 minutes of exercise a day is enough to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases without significant weight loss.


Bones are living tissue. Every day, minerals move in and out of our bones in response to the demands of daily living. If you stress bone, it responds. If you don’t, the balance between bone gain and loss shifts toward bone loss. Research shows that strength training preserves bone better that walking or running, and can increase bone density. The amount that a bone is stressed, or overloaded, determines whether bone formation is stimulated. A small number of repetitions (8-15) with a heavy load can do the trick.

Regular physical activity has also been shown to prevent certain types of cancer, depression, dementia, and improve immunity. If exercise were a pill, it would be called a wonder drug.

To reduce health risks associated with inactivity, at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise three days a week are required. To maintain lost weight, 60-90 minutes a day of exercise is needed. To build muscle and prevent bone loss, strength train at least twice a week with a weight heavy enough to lift eight to fifteen times.

The good news is that it is never too late to start moving. People well into their 90s can benefit from regular exercise. And if you’ve been moving all along, you can reach your 90s with vitality and independence. The only “magic bullet” out there that I know of is physical activity. So commit yourself to exercise. Schedule it in your date book. As a well known athletic company says, “Just do it!”

1 comment:

  1. Great article, especially about if you are already overweight, how you have to exercise even more to get the impact of losing. That is so important and I think that people have been "lied" to with the whole, just 30 minutes 3x a week is all you need to lose weight and feel great! What a joke! Anyway, thanks for posting the truth.