A recent study have evaluated the totality of evidence and conclude that regular physical activity bears the closest resemblance to a ‘magic bullet’ to combat the worldwide epidemic of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The statistics on regular physical activity in the United States are bleak; only about 20 percent of Americans (23 percent of men and 18 percent of women) engage in recommended levels of regular physical activity and about 64 percent never do any physical activity.
In Europe, the statistics are not much better with only 33 percent who engage in physical activity with some regularity, while 42 percent never do any physical activity.
Weight gain as well as being overweight or obese in middle age increase the risk for cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke as well as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and some common and fatal cancers such as colon cancer.
The authors also point out that physical activity confers important beneficial effects beyond body weight and include blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, colon cancer and possibly even breast and prostate cancers as well as arthritis, mood, energy, sleep and sex life.
The authors suggest that perhaps the time and effort needed for regular physical activity, coupled with the limited accurate knowledge about its immediate and long-term benefits, may contribute to largely sedentary lifestyles. This hypothesis is supported by the survey data from Europe where 42 percent give this as the main reason for their sedentary lifestyle.
Starting in their 30s, Americans and many Europeans tend to gain between 1 and 3 pounds of body weight per year, and by 55, many are between 30 and 50 pounds overweight. This typical weight gain also is marked by an increase in adipose tissue mass and loss of lean body mass that accompanies an inactive lifestyle.
The authors note that brisk walking for only 20 minutes a day burns about 700 calories a week, results in a 30 to 40 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and can be performed even by the elderly.
They stress that regular physical activity also should include resistance exercise such as lifting weights, which can even be safely performed in the elderly and in patients with heart failure. The maintenance or increase in lean body mass derived from lifting weights promotes an increase in the calories people burn at rest which adds a significant additional contribution to control of body weight.
Lack of physical activity accounts for 22 percent of coronary heart disease, 22 percent of colon cancer, 18 percent of osteoporotic fractures, 12 percent of diabetes and hypertension, and five percent of breast cancer.
Furthermore, physical inactivity accounts for approximately 2.4 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures or approximately $24 billion a year.
Finally, the authors caution that cardiovascular disease is now the leading killer worldwide and a chief contributor in developing countries, increasing obesity and decreasing levels of physical activity.
This study has been published in journal Cardiology.