All around the world, people are becoming more less physically active. And that growing sedentary lifestyle has real health consequences.
Researchers say physical inactivity is to blame for 1 out of 10 deaths globally, about the same rate as deaths caused by smoking.
A new study in the medical journal The Lancet found that levels of physical activity roughly track patterns of development–people in higher income countries were the least active, with those in the UK and the US among the worst.
But they have plenty of company. The researchers surveyed 122 countries and ranked them by level of exercise, and the top three are somewhat surprising.
So that’s today’s Geo Quiz: what are the three countries on that list that are the most slothful?
One is a Mediterranean nation, one is in Africa and the third is in the Middle East. In all three, close to 70 percent of adults aren’t getting enough exercise.
The answers are Malta, Swaziland and Saudi Arabia.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to contributing researcher Gregory Heath from the University of Tennessee.
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Marco Werman: Marathon runners are among the fittest human beings on the planet. They don’t have to worry about this news headline. Researchers say physical inactivity is to blame for 1 out of 10 deaths around the globe, about the same as deaths caused by smoking. Later in the program, we’re going to hear more about that worrisome finding. First though, here’s the Geo Quiz for all of us couch potatoes. Here in the U.S., only 6 out of every 10 adults are sufficiently active, but when it comes to inactivity, we Americans have plenty of company around the globe. The researchers we mentioned surveyed 122 countries and ranked them by level of exercise. The question for you is: which three countries on that list that are the most slothful? One is a Mediterranean nation, one is in Africa and the third is in the Middle East. In all three, close to 70 percent of adults are getting too little exercise. We’ll name the countries in a few minutes. In the meantime, feel free to do some sit-ups or pushups “ something, anything“ just keep the radio on, please.
This is PRI. I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. With the Olympics coming up, you’ll be hearing a lot about athletes who do a ton of exercise. If that doesn’t motivate you, maybe this will. Researchers say that 1 in 10 deaths around the globe are caused by inactivity. A paper published by the British medical journal The Lancet also ranks nations by their levels of physical activity. The three countries we asked you to name in our Geo Quiz today were at the bottom of the list. They are Malta, Swaziland and Saudi Arabia, but the study looks at the global picture. Gregory Heath from the University of Tennessee helped conduct the research, which was based on a survey of 122 nations.
Gregory Heath: Across all those countries in terms of inactivity status, roughly one-third of the world’s population is not achieving a significant amount of recommended physical activity to accrue some health benefit or even fitness benefit. So a third of the population is not getting an adequate amount across global population.
Werman: How worried are you by those numbers?
Heath: Well, the numbers are quite concerning, simply because what we expect to have happen if we don’t do something in a proactive sort of way is that we would expect this proportion to actually go up, because you’ve got to realize that the majority of the population lives in the economically developing world. So essentially the majority of the population is potentially going to be influenced by rapid development, which is a good thing. I mean, economically, developing those countries is excellent in terms of raising the standard of living. But hopefully, those of us who have experienced that can share our insights, and indeed that’s happening in places in Latin America, for example.
Werman: I’m wondering if you found a correlation between lack of development in a country and increased exercise. I mean, for example, you may not have gyms, but you’ve got to walk ten miles to get a bucket of water.
Heath: Right. No, that’s exactly the pattern that we see in the lower-income countries where there’s less dependence on motorized transport. So generally speaking, the issue is urbanization, and as that happens, we can build our cities and communities in such a way that they do offer the opportunity to be more active, not only in terms of recreation and open space but also transport in particular.
Werman: Right, I mean, to talk about solutions for a moment, you highlight the ciclovia, an idea that comes out of Bogota in Colombia where exercise is taken into the streets.
Heath: Right, exactly, and it’s rather large public campaigns where we’re talking miles of road which are closed to vehicular traffic and where communities are encouraged, the citizens are encouraged to come out and just be active. It could be any form of activity. It’s not like a race or anything like that. It’s just a celebration, and it’s part and parcel of the culture that 50 percent of the population that engage themselves in this activity are achieving the recommended levels of physical activity.
Werman: How often does Bogota close the streets off for the ciclovia?
Heath: Every Sunday from 9 in the morning or 8 in the morning until about 2 in the afternoon. Other communities, for example in Mexico in Guadalajara, they do the same kind of campaign but it’s not as frequent. So they do maybe once a month. What it does is it certainly sends a statement about the importance of activity but also the enjoyment associated with it and the socialization and the social support, and it raises the awareness of the community and obviously it has some impact. It certainly has in Colombia.
Werman: Another solution to the inactivity problem around the world that you suggest in your study is how mobile phones might encourage people to become more physically active.
Heath: The idea there is, for example, messaging, texting and so forth. With physical activity promotion messages and cues, they were able to demonstrate in a number of studies that they could successfully impact the population. So the thought is that this is a potentially powerful intervention tool.
Werman: Gregory Heath, epidemiologist at the University of Tennessee, thank you so much.
Heath: Hey, thank you.
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