Should Physical Inactivity Be Medicalized?
The Olympics showed us all the amazing things humans can do as a result of intense training on top of talent. While performances in the Olympics and other sporting events get better and better the sad reality is that the world as a whole is getting less fit and less active. Here is a link to a statistics filled analysis of the inactivity pandemic that appeared in the Lancet medical journal just before the Olympics.
This paper was part of a series of articles on physical inactivity and what to do about it. The article points out that “inactive people would gain 1.3–3.7 years (of life expectancy) from age 50 years by becoming active” and that “with elimination of smoking, life expectancy at age 50 years was estimated to increase by 2.3–2.5 years in the US population”.
These data are consistent with the idea physical inactivity now rivals smoking as a cause of premature death. Inactivity is also perhaps the major cause of non-communicable diseases worldwide. In fact regular exercise or even just building more activity into your daily routine can be used to either prevent or treat all sorts of things including:
- Coronary artery disease and other forms of atherosclerosis
- Aging associated frailty
- Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and POTS.
The figure below shows just how protective physical activity is. The data are from about 4,000 middle aged men in Great Britain, but all sorts of studies in all sorts of populations have essentially generated curves that look just like this. The important thing to note is that most of the protective effects of physical activity occur when people go from inactive to moderately active.
The question now is what to do about all of this inactivity? In a recent editorial on a form of orthostatic intolerance (light headedness and fainting when standing up) I pointed out that, like so many other medical conditions, exercise training appears to make this condition better. I then argued that inactivity should become an official medical diagnosis. This would raise awareness of the problem, improve physician training related to exercise, and perhaps stimulate organizations that pay for medical care to do more. It might also lead to more widespread support of supervised progressive training or “reconditioning” programs and related public health measures.
These ideas are not new, and in fact Dr. Frank Booth, a truly visionary scientist, has been making similar arguments for many years.
Finally forget mortality and the cold hard statistics mentioned above, and ask yourself how many people are leading limited lives because they are unfit, frail, or suffer from preventable chronic diseases? How many older people can’t chase their grandchildren around the yard? How many people can’t go for a hike on beautiful but challenging mountain trail or body surf at the beach? It is a big world and being fit makes it possible to engage fully in the many interesting things that are out there and waiting for us.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Current Events, Research and Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.