Greatest Health Risk Isn’t Cancer or Heart Disease; It’s Lack of Exercise

We are constantly bombarded with gloom and doom news stories warning us that heart disease is America's number one killer, followed closely by cancer. What's more, there's a worldwide epidemic of diabetes and fear mongers are also warning that swine flu, H1N1, is lurking around every corner about to plunge us into a pandemic. But what is really the biggest threat to your health? According to epidemiologist and researcher Steven Blair, the gravest public health problem of the 21st century is Americans' physical inactivity and it poses the greatest risk of ill health to Americans. Simply put, sitting on your butt instead of moving your body in your daily life and exercising can be deadly.

Unfortunately, an enormous number of Americans, around 50 million, are living sedentary lives. That puts these coach potatoes at increased risk of health problems and early death, Blair recently said in an address to the American Psychological Association's (APA) 117th Annual Convention held in Toronto. "Over the past few decades, we have largely engineered the need for physical activity out of the daily lives of most people in industrialized societies," he stated.

Blair pointed to research showing that around 25 to 35 percent of American adults are inactive. They work sedentary jobs, engage in no regular physical activity program, are generally inactive around the house and most don't even do their own yard work. "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 said in a statement to the media.

A professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, he is recognized as one of the world's leading experts on exercise and its health benefits. Blair was the senior scientific editor of the 1996 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health.

His extensive research comes involves the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (ACLS), an ongoing study started in 1970 which includes more than 80,000 people. In addition to keeping track of the participants medical histories, scientists periodically have measured the participants' body composition and body mass index (BMI). Each volunteer in the study also underwent a stress test.

The results, Blair told the APA, show that the fitness level of the research subjects has turned out to be a significant predictor of life span. For example, a follow-up study of 40,842 ACLS participants concluded a poor fitness level accounted for about 16 percent of all deaths in both men and women -- and these are deaths that most likely would have been avoided if these people had simply spent about half an hour a day walking. What's more, this percentage of deaths was significantly higher than when other risk factors were considered, including obesity, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes. The ACLS also found that men who were only moderately fit lived six years longer than men who would qualify as sedentary couch potatoes.

Blair revealed that exercise can help beat breast cancer, too. An examination of 14,811 women patients in the ACLS showed that those who very fit were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than women who were not in good shape. This huge reduction in breast cancer deaths was calculated after the researchers controlled for BMI, smoking, family history of breast cancer and other possible risk factors. Blair also explained in his APA presentation that recent emerging evidence shows exercise is good for brain health and can delay the mind's decline.

"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. We need more communities where people feel comfortable walking," Blair said in a statement to the press. "I believe psychologists can help develop better lifestyle change interventions to help people be more active via the Internet and other technological methods." (naturalnews, 9.07.2009, S. L. Baker)

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