Desk job? You might want to review your exercise regime

Researchers estimated that physical inactivity cost healthcare systems and workplaces almost €60.26 billion worldwide

Department of Health guidelines are that adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week and children at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. These guidelines may need to be reviewed in the light of the new research. Photograph: iStockphoto

Department of Health guidelines are that adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week and children at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. These guidelines may need to be reviewed in the light of the new research. Photograph: iStockphoto

 

Most people know that physical activity is essential for good health. Now it seems that being active is more important than ever.

New research, published in The Lancet in July, found that not only is physical inactivity associated with a wide range of chronic diseases but it is responsible for a huge economic burden.

Healthcare costs, productivity losses, and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) attributable to physical inactivity were estimated for 142 countries, representing almost the entire global population. Healthcare costs and DALYs were also estimated for certain diseases: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer.

Researchers estimated that physical inactivity cost healthcare systems and workplaces almost $67.5 billion (€60.26 billion) worldwide in 2013, of which $31.2 billion was paid by the public sector. Physical inactivity was responsible for more than 13 million DALYs worldwide. The researchers concluded that promotion of physical activity must be prioritised as part of a strategy to reduce non-communicable diseases.

The Lancet also reported on research about the benefits of physical activity for people who spend a lot of time sitting down. This involved a meta-analysis of 16 studies and a million people.

The study found that “high levels of moderate intensity physical activity (about 60-75 minutes a day) seem to eliminate the increased risk of death associated with high sitting time. However, this high activity level attenuates but does not eliminate the increased risk associated with high TV-viewing time.”

Recommendations

The level of physical activity that conferred the most benefit is beyond the basic level of most recommendations for public health. People whose jobs involve a lot of sitting, such as bus drivers and IT workers, may need to urgently review their physical activity regimes.

The findings related to TV-viewing are explained by the researchers: “TV-viewing typically occurs in the evenings, usually after dinner, and prolonged postprandial sedentary time may be particularly detrimental for glucose and lipid metabolism.”

Department of Health guidelines are that adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week and children at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.

These guidelines may need to be reviewed in the light of the new research. Just under a third of Irish people are sufficiently active, according to the Healthy Ireland Survey 2015.

The proportion who are highly active decreases with age, with almost half of those aged 15 to 24 categorised as highly active compared with only 15 per cent of those aged 65 and over.

The survey also found that Irish people spend, on average, more than five hours sitting down on a weekday, including more than three hours watching television. Men spend more time sitting than women. Those aged 15 to 24 spend the most time sitting down.

In a comment piece, The Lancet points out that physical activity is as important a risk factor for chronic diseases as obesity and tobacco. Physical activity is not improving worldwide despite an increasing number of countries having national physical activity policies and plans. “There has been an overall failure to scale up effective interventions at the population level.”

Ireland’s plan

Ireland has a physical activity plan. Get Ireland Active! National Physical Activity Plan for Ireland was launched early this year.

The overarching target of the plan is “to increase the proportion of the population across each lifestage (children aged 0-18, adults aged 18-64, and adults aged 65+) undertaking regular physical activity by 1 per cent per annum across the lifetime of Healthy Ireland”, which is 2025.

The plan has 60 actions involving schools, the HSE, the environment and workplaces. For example, patients and health service users can expect to be asked questions about physical activity levels when attending appointments. Local authorities are expected to develop parks and play areas that promote physical activity. Workplaces will have more standing desks.

Those responsible for the actions are clearly identified so the plan has a good chance of succeeding. However, everyone has a responsibility to be more physically active and parents must ensure their children are active enough. Only 19 per cent of primary school children and 12 per cent of post-primary children take enough exercise.

Physical activity is a habit which begins in childhood and nowadays children are kept in buggies for far too long. No child should be in a buggy over the age of two. It may be convenient for busy parents but starts a bad habit that can persist for life. Check out getirelandactive.ie for more information on physical activity.

Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion and a member of the Healthy Ireland Council. drjackyjones@gmail.com

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