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Biggest health risk for Americans is inactivity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Inactivity is one of America's biggest health risks.

Steven Blair, PED, speaking at the 117th meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA), says the biggest health risk to Americans is inactivity, leaving 50 million sedentary people in America at increased health risk and early death. He called inactivity in America, "the biggest public health problem of the 21st century."

Twenty five to thirty five percent of Americans have no regular exercise routine, sedentary jobs, and do not engage in household activities, according to research findings. That equates to approximately 40 million to 50 million people at risk for health problems that include obesity, diabetes, and heart disease related to inactivity.

Blair, a professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, and 1996 senior editor of the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health says, "Given that these individuals are doubling their risk of developing numerous health conditions compared with those who are even moderately active and fit, we're looking at a major public health problem."

Blair’s analysis comes from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study that started in 1970 and includes more than 80,000 patients. The study shows that physically fit individuals live longer. One study revealed that 16 percent of all deaths in both men and women were associated with lack of physical fitness from being inactive. Even moderate activity, including simply walking can reduce health risks associated with obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.

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Moderately fit men in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study lived six years longer than those who were unfit. Additional findings showed that physically fit women had a 55 percent less risk of dying from breast cancer, and included 14,811 female patients.

Blair delivers a simple message –“Doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing more is better than doing less, at least up to a point”. He says, "We need numerous changes to promote more physical activity for all, including public policies, changes in the health care system, promoting activity in educational settings and worksites, and social and physical environmental changes.” He suggests communities where people feel comfortable walking, and adds “I believe psychologists can help develop better lifestyle change interventions to help people be more active via the Internet and other technological methods."

Blair pointed out that physical activity is also good for brain health. Inactivity poses risk of early dementia, and is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Blair believes “We have” engineered the need for physical activity out of the daily lives of most people in industrialized societies.” He says psychologists could help Americans reduce risk factors for disease and early death from inactivity by helping them find ways to get active. The message delivered to the APA is clear – Americans need help to get moving - Steven Blair is urging psychologists to get involved in addressing what he calls the biggest health risk to Americans – inactivity.

American Psychological Association

Updated January 22, 2014