A greater challenge than obesity

01.20.15 |

Twenty minutes of walking a day could save your life

That’s what researchers out of the University of Cambridge are saying after completing a 12-year study. This study found that, in Europe, inactivity was to blame for 676,000 deaths while obesity was to blame for 337,000. This research highlights the fact that while obesity is a dangerous health condition many people are still underestimating the value of activity.

Part of the problem is that our perspectives on health can be limited by our fixation on weight. Reaching a healthy weight is a critical step toward Optimal Health, yes, but there is more to creating health than the number that you see on the scale in the morning. In fact, even if weight has never been a challenge for an individual, they can still be unhealthy.

The difference between healthy and non-sick

In the Habits of Health, I describe the state of lingering at a healthy weight without concern for proper nutrition or daily activity as non-sick. You may not be sick in this scenario, but in reality, there is a big difference between being healthy and being non-sick.

Non-sickness is like purgatory—simply surviving, as opposed to a healthy state of thriving. It is caused by eating an excess quantity of nutritionally barren food, which overworks the pancreas and facilitates your body’s storage of fat. Non-sickness is a state in which your muscles become weak and flabby, a state of not enough sleep and way too much stress. It’s a state that leads you to progressive dependence on medications to relieve your symptoms—symptoms that are merely your body’s way of telling you that you’re not healthy.

You might not be overweight, and you may feel okay, but non-sick is not healthy, and non-sick is a slippery slope to more serious health challenges.

Health is an active process. You have to work on it every day. As soon as you stop working to move forward, closer to Optimal Health, you risk slipping backward into a state of non-sickness and, eventually, sickness.

Inactivity and you

Prof. Ulf Ekelund, the lead on the Cambridge study that I mentioned earlier, told BBC News that “the greatest risk [of an early death] was in those classed inactive, and that was consistent in normal weight, overweight and obese people.”
But what makes inactivity so dangerous?

First of all, we can recognize that for many people obesity and inactivity are intertwined. Even if research found that inactivity was linked to more deaths than obesity, we cannot ignore the mountain of life-threatening consequences that are connected to obesity. This study does not mean that we should ignore weight. In my mind, it is a reminder that we must broaden our thinking on health to go beyond weight-loss.

The risks associated with inactivity are many, but here are a few highlights from Johns Hopkins University:

  • Inactivity and poor fitness can increase one’s risk for high blood pressure.
  • Activity has been shown to decrease the likelihood of coronary heart disease.
  • Inactivity has been linked to anxiety and depression.
  • Inactive individuals may be at a greater risk for certain cancers.

And don’t forget that the seemingly innocuous act (or non-act) of sitting has been compared to smoking because of its role in sedentary health risks like heart disease and diabetes.

Activity matters, regardless of your weight. There is no way around it.

Developing Habits of Motion: Walking

Nearly every moment of your life is an opportunity to introduce more motion into your routine. Simple modifications like washing your dishes by hand or standing while you talk on the phone can add up to a big change in how many calories you burn in a given day.

Tips for walking more

In the spirit of Professor Ekelund’s research, though, here are a few tips for walking more:

  • Use the far restroom or water fountain at work to add a few extra steps into your workday.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
  • Take a walk before or after eating to get closer to your daily step goal while also relieving a bit of mid-day stress.
  • Set aside time to walk every day, just like you would for a workout.
  • Schedule walks with friends or download a podcast to make your walks more stimulating.