A new study published by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests 1 in 4 adults (27.5 percent) worldwide is getting insufficient exercise as measured by WHO guidelines. After analyzing 358 population-based surveys involving 1.9 million participants representing 168 countries, the study authors concluded more than 1.4 billion adults are at risk of “developing or exacerbating diseases linked to inactivity.”
This is unfortunate news considering the WHO recommendations represent minimum levels of activity. I believe you need more exercise and movement on a daily basis than they recommend to achieve optimal health. In my experience, most health conditions can be improved by exercise and you can often lower your risk of chronic disease simply by exercising regularly.
Exercise also positively affects your brain and mental health, among other benefits. Keep reading to find out how you can avoid becoming a global statistic for inactivity.
WHO Study Suggests 1 in 4 Adults Worldwide Face Increased Risk of Disease Due to Inactivity
The WHO study, published in The Lancet Global Health, asserts 27.5 percent of adults worldwide do not meet the WHO’s exercise guidelines of at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or a combination of both).
Survey participants, who represent about 96 percent of the world’s population, self-reported the physical activity they achieved related to work, household tasks, leisure time and transportation. While the new data represents a slight improvement from 2001, when the global inactivity rate was 28.5 percent, the study authors noted the results are problematic.
They suggested inactivity is a significant problem that needs to be “urgently addressed.” They also stated, “If current trends continue, the [WHO’s] 2025 global physical activity target — a 10 percent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity — will not be met. Given the fact 1 in 4 adults does not perform the recommended amount of weekly exercise, the study authors suggest nonexercisers are putting themselves at increased risk of chronic diseases linked to inactivity.
They cited other studies validating the link between exercise and a lower risk of breast and colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The researchers also assert physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, delay the onset of dementia and positively affect your mental health. Time and CNN highlighted the following additional information about the WHO surveys:
- More data was available for high-income than low-income countries
- Exercise rates in high-income nations tended to be less than those in low-income countries, partly because of differences in work and transportation
- Women were shown to get less exercise than men: Globally, 23.4 percent of men and 31.7 percent of women did not meet the WHO guidelines for exercise in 2016
- From 2001 to 2016, rates of physical inactivity in high-income Western nations increased from 31.6 percent to 36.8 percent, whereas rates in low-income countries remained stable at around 16 percent
- In 2016, women in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia and high-income Western countries were the groups least likely to get sufficient amounts of exercise
- The highest activity levels among men recorded in 2016 were found in Oceania, east and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where jobs, chores, and transportation often require greater physical exertion as compared to other regions
- Mozambique and Uganda, where just 6 percent of adults fell short of the WHO’s goal in 2016, were noted as having the highest population of exercising adults
About the outcomes, Walter Thompson, associate dean and professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University, who was not involved in the study, told CNN, “Physical inactivity is pandemic and not a characteristic of low-income or high-income countries. It is prevalent in every country and has the same impact on chronic disease.”
Thompson wisely noted public policy has had little to no effect on physical activity patterns worldwide. He added, “[The] WHO admits the current strategies are not working and new tactics are needed to [increase] physical activity in all countries.”
The study authors commented similarly, saying, “Our data show progress toward the global target set by WHO member states to reduce physical inactivity by 10 percent by 2025 has been too slow and is not on track. A significant increase in national action is urgently needed in most countries to scale up implementation of effective policies.”
The Dangers of Too Much Sitting
You may be getting tired of hearing about the dangers of sitting. No matter, the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle continue to be raised to public awareness mainly because the message is important. In addition, it’s clear from the WHO surveys not enough people are listening and even fewer are making the necessary changes.
We live in an age of many wonderful, modern conveniences designed to make our lives easier and more productive. While some of the advances are genuinely helpful, others are driving activity, work and movement out of our daily lives.
Given the growing cultural attachment to screens and technology, some folks spend the majority of their waking hours moving from one chair (or similar piece of furniture) to another at home, work and during transportation. A study published in the American Journal of Nursing highlights some of the serious health risks associated with sitting too long.
Study author Linda Eanes, assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley school of nursing, conducted a literature review from 2003 to 2017 to identify research focused on high-volume sitting or prolonged uninterrupted sitting. Based on her analysis of 41 articles, Eanes concluded prolonged sitting:
- Slows your metabolism, which in turn affects your body’s ability to regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as to shed body fat
- Increases your risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes
- In conjunction with obesity, puts you at increased risk of certain cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial and lung cancer
I have often mentioned the importance of exercise as a prevention strategy for Type 2 diabetes. As noted in the ABC News video above, if you are diabetic and not yet convinced of the benefits of exercise, you may be interested to know at least 28 studies suggest the timing and quantity of exercise you get play a significant role in managing the disease.
Researchers note chronic sitting is particularly detrimental for diabetics, whereas short breaks to walk or do resistance exercises have been shown to reduce the blood lipids associated with inflammation.
Ways You Can Get More Movement Into Your Day
Below are some tips you can apply today to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting:19,20
- When sitting, get out of your chair every 30 minutes for a standing or stretch break (consider setting a timer to remind you)
- Consider standing or walking while watching TV or talking on the phone
- If your job involves sitting at a desk most of the day, consider investing in a standing desk
- Instead of holding sitting meetings at work, try standing or walking meetings
- When possible at home and work, make a point to deliver messages in person instead of emailing or texting them
- Avoid elevators and escalators in favor of the stairs, park farther away from entrances to get in more walking and consider standing rather than sitting when using public transportation
- Get some exercise during lunch breaks or schedule it in before or after work
- Do stretching and other moderate forms of exercise while watching TV
The Nitric Oxide Dump: A Four-Minute Exercise Routine You Can Do Anytime, Anywhere
If you are eager to break out of unhealthy sitting patterns but are unsure where to start, you might want to consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT focuses on short bursts of intense exercise designed to stimulate your mitochondria to work harder.
Because mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of virtually all disease, you are only as healthy as your mitochondria. A particular type of HIIT I hope you’ll consider doing on a regular basis is the Nitric Oxide Dump, which is demonstrated in the video above.
This four-minute workout, which features four basic exercises focused on your 16 major muscle groups, can be performed anytime, anywhere. That said, I don’t recommend doing this routine close to bedtime because it might keep you awake. While it may be hard to believe, in just a few minutes you can achieve similar benefits as if you’d exercised in the gym for an hour.
You get those amazing benefits because the program is designed to stimulate the release of nitric oxide, a soluble gas and free radical stored in the lining of your blood vessels that can catalyze your health. You can do the Nitric Oxide Dump routine at home or work, outdoors or at the gym. I’ve even done it at the airport while waiting for my luggage.
Other Recommended Types of Exercise You Can Easily Customize to Your Situation
Occasionally, I’ve been told my exercise advice extends beyond what a beginner can accomplish. Given my advanced level of fitness, it may seem my suggestions are out of reach for the average person. However, I assure you every program I recommend can be adjusted and customized to your personal needs and unique situation.
Don’t allow yourself to use this or any other excuse as a reason not to exercise. If you’re not sure what type of exercise would be best for you or how to customize certain routines to work around joint pain, for example, you may want to consult a health coach or personal trainer. Below are some basic forms of exercise I highly recommend and nearly anyone can perform:
• Daily walking — If you are not sure where to begin with exercise, the easiest type to accomplish is daily walking. If you have a fitness tracker, you probably already know most experts recommend you take 10,000 to 15,000 steps daily. The best way to accomplish this is to take every opportunity to increase your steps by walking to work, walking a pet, taking the stairs, parking farther away from your destination and so on.
• Strength training — Regardless of your age, strength training is an important aspect of any fitness program. It’s well-known that working with your own body weight or the weight of a dumbbell or machine can help enhance your muscle tone and strengthen your bones. Weight training also helps prevent osteoporosis and joint damage from osteoarthritis.
• Stretching — Active stretching, which is so much better than static stretching, is an important part of any warmup routine. It has been shown to positively influence agility, endurance, flexibility, power, speed and strength performance. Active isolated stretching (AIS), a method developed by kinesiology and kinesiotherapy specialist Aaron Mattes, can also help you rehab from injuries.
• Yoga — Yoga promotes a connection among your mind, body and spirit. Research suggests yoga and other meditative practices can even alter your genetic expression. The benefits of regular yoga practice include improved cognitive function, heart health, immunity, mental health, sexual performance and sleep. Yoga also promotes increased balance, flexibility and strength, and has been shown to ease low-back pain.
Not a Fan of Land-Based Exercise? You Might Enjoy Working Out in Water
If you have joint problems and are concerned about ankle, knee or hip pain, you might consider swimming or another form of water-based activity. Many recreation centers, fitness outlets and gyms offer water-based classes that will allow you to move at your own pace and skill level. Swimming boosts your cardiovascular fitness, fat burning, and strength.
It also offers an attractive benefit to people who have trouble working out on land: a total lack of weight-bearing exercise. Exercising in water can improve your range of motion and reduce your pain level during workouts, particularly if you are overweight, struggle with joint pain or osteoarthritis, are older or haven’t exercised in a while.
In addition, by exercising in water, you’ll reduce your risk of falls, sprains and other injuries. Vertical water workouts, such as deep-water jogging, flexibility training, water aerobics, and water yoga are a few of the options that may be available at your local pool. Given the higher amounts of resistance involved, vertical water exercises are a great alternative to land-based exercise programs or traditional swimming, particularly if you have chronic pain or mobility issues.
For Optimal Health, You Must Get Regular Exercise
The WHO report seems to be yet another wake-up call to men and women around the globe: You must get regular exercise to be healthy. If you are among the one-quarter of adults who does not get the minimum amount of recommended exercise, it’s time to make changes. Your health depends on it.
That said, it’s also important to remember even when you do exercise regularly, you may not be sufficiently offsetting the many hours you likely spend sitting. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise a few days a week is not enough to counteract the many health-damaging effects of sitting all day.
No matter what type you choose, I encourage you to start today to incorporate as much movement and exercise into your day as possible. If you are not a self-starter in this area, consider involving a friend or family member as a source of motivation, accountability, and encouragement. Another option, if you own a smartphone, is to use one of the many health and fitness apps available.
Along with diet and sleep, exercise is one of the keys to optimal health. Regardless of your age and fitness level, it’s rarely too late to start an exercise program. Focus on what you can do more than what you cannot do and get moving today!
*Article originally appeared at Mercola. Reposted with permission.