Eat less and walk more

By JOAQUIN ORAMAS*

HAVANA (20 May 2004) -- AS confidence grows in the world over humans’ ability to prolong life and even aspire to reach the age of 120 in the future, there are more people thinking about the benefits of physical activity, and promoting an active lifestyle to achieve that goal.

In that sense, the World Health Organization (WHO) especially stresses the need for today’s men and women to abandon sedentary habits and choose healthier ways of living, so that they live longer with quality of life.

It has been widely confirmed that sedentary lifestyles are significant cause of mortality, morbidity and disabilities. According to the initial results of a WHO study on risk factors, sedentary lifestyles are one of the 10 main causes of mortality and disability in the world.

Data from this organization reveals that approximately two million deaths per year may be attributed to lack of physical activity.

Currently, the WHO is evaluating the international percentage of illnesses caused by 22 risk factors related to health, among them sedentariness. While the results of that research have yet to be published, for researchers it’s evident that lack of physical activity is an important public health problem that affects millions of people throughout the world.

A cultural malaise

Health surveys done around the world are notably similar: the percentage of sedentary or nearly sedentary adults varies between 60-85 per cent. Today’s culture has taken millions of people to the point that has made it urgent to implement efficient measures for promoting physical activity and improving health throughout the world.

The extent to which physical activity is lacking is great in nearly all countries, both developed and developing. In the first, more than 50 per cent of all adults are not sufficiently active. In the rapidly growing cities of the developing world, lack of physical activity is an ever-increasing problem.

But the problem goes beyond urban areas and reaches into rural zones. There, too, sedentary pastimes like watching television are on a real increase. This has translated into a growth in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Chronic diseases are today the principal cause of mortality in the world. Inadequate diet, excess calories, inactivity, obesity and related chronic diseases are the main public health problem in most countries.

Less food and more physical activity are recommended by experts to prevent the syndrome of diabetes and obesity. Professionals also recommend the detection of sedentary habits at an early age as a way of preventing these conditions, in the interest of expanding the number of those who may aspire to live to be 120 or more.

They also warn about the dangerous childhood sedentariness that is aggravated when children play for many hours on the computer or spend the day in front of the television.

In reference to the above-mentioned syndrome, some specialists define it as a set of alterations that appear and that are related to diabetes and obesity, such as high blood pressure, overly high blood sugar levels, changes in cholesterol, and its direct responsibility for heart and brain diseases.

Prevention of these alterations beginning at an early age is becoming more and more necessary. While there are 150 million people who suffer from diabetes worldwide, experts estimate that by 2025, that number will have doubled if certain habits such as sedentariness or poor diet don’t change. In Cuba, there are 200,000 diabetics, a figure that is also expected to increase considerably if the problems of sedentariness are not attended to.

“Eat less and walk more” is the simple prescription that experts give to combat the harm done by sedentary habits.

* Journalist for Granma newspaper



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