Is a Sedentary Lifestyle the New Smoking?
There are wide arrays of health concerns facing our ever changing and continually aging population. The recent trends over the past three to four decades have witnessed us experiencing increased obesity rates, an aging population and only approximately 1/5th of Americans meeting the recommended daily exercise requirements (Green, 2015). However, all is not lost. A great deal of research and concerned health and fitness professionals and scientists are bringing to light the mounting issues and the ramifications of living an unhealthy lifestyle. Our health is not only affected, but an unhealthy population is a financial drain upon society. In 2015, studies demonstrated that there was a decline in new diabetes case and smoking has dropped over 20% in the last decade (Carroll, 2016). All of the news about our health is not all “doom and gloom” and it appears as if we’re going in the right direction, but we still have a great deal of work to do.
Is a sedentary lifestyle the new smoking? The most recent data certainly validates the relevancy of this question. According to the most recent studies, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading factors contributing to Coronary Heart Disease, CHD. As with smokers, physically inactive people are twice as likely to develop CHD (Powers, Howley, 2015, pg. 316). Smoking, inactivity and poor nutrition are the leading causes of CHD as far as the behavioral contributing risk factors are concerned. This should come as no surprise. If we consider how human beings evolved and what we were best designed for compared to the current condition of most modern day homo sapiens sapiens, 68% of Americans are overweight and 37.5% are obese, we are far from the mark of the world’s best warm weather, long distance runners. Humans are weak and unathletic, when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. We aren’t fast, can’t jump high and have no claws or do we have large fangs or venom. If we did not possess a large brain and an opposable thumb, we’d be relegated to eating fruits, vegetables and carrion and we’d be at mercy of the other more powerful, well equipped predators (Stipp, 2012). One word of caution when considering overweight percentages though, if the data is simply based on BMI (Body Mass Index), the results may be skewed due the failure of BMI to take into account muscle mass of athletes and the larger structure of some races (Green, 2014).
There are several factors that determine adherence to an exercise program. One of them is background. If an individual has been sedentary for a significant duration, they may come from one of many backgrounds. Examples may individuals who have either never worked out or they are a former athlete/exerciser that has not done so in a long time. Each situation presents its own set of challenges. For those who have never trained before, working out, becoming sore and tired is a new phenomenon. This may create a level of anxiety and if they become too sore, get blisters, perform poorly, or sustain an injury; the chances of continuance of their exercise regimen is significantly diminished. A strenuous workout routine will discourage a novice exerciser. If a deconditioned subject becomes injured, the quest for fitness will most likely end. The former exerciser that has decided to get back in shape has a far greater chance of maintaining adherence to an exercise program. The main issue concerning this population is their unrealistic memory. Their minds harken back to a time when they were strong and fit and they truly believe that they can still do what they once were able to. However, their bodies are not the same. This group of people stand a greater chance of becoming injured and must be monitored closely while exercising.
When we are considering public health concerns in regard to sedentary individuals, we must look at how to increase adherence and avoid injury. Either one of the aforementioned will end or significantly hamper the efforts of converting a sedentary individual into an avid exerciser leading a healthy lifestyle. These are some of the main reasons that small increments and achievable goals are preferable to pushing one’s self too far. Another big deterrent is perceived lack of time. It’s far easier to schedule 20 to 40 minutes bouts of exercise at a moderate pace than it is to set aside two hours of a hardcore physical session. Plus, the risk/reward equation must be taken into consideration. Another consideration is the reduction/prevention of Type 2 diabetes. Smaller duration, more numerous bouts of daily exercise are beneficial in training the body to regulate glucose and insulin balance in the muscles and blood. Many sedentary individuals are either prediabetic or are already suffering from Type 2 diabetes.
Exercise results in more lean body mass and less adipose tissue and can both serve as an appetite suppressant and/or a stimulant. The range of body fat percent is different between men and women. The American Council on Exercise recommends that men maintain between 14 to 24 percent body fat for optimal fitness and athletes and are recommended to be at 6 to 14 percent. Women should maintain between 25 to 31 percent for optimal health and 21 to 24 percent for athletes (Green, 2014).
Chart courtesy of ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 5th Edition
Exercise, especially intense bouts of resistance training, increases muscle mass and bone density. Of the five aspects of physical fitness; cardio respiratory fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition, the latter is the most physically noticeable. Exercisers receive compliments and encouragement from coworkers as their bodies take on a more fit form. Their family and friends take notice as their body morphs into a leaner more mobile version as their energy level improves. These changes also help an individual’s psyche.
Most of the information that we read pertains to losing weight. However, there is a certain portion of the population desiring accumulation of body mass. Power Lifters, Bodybuilders, Football Players, Shot Putters, etc...These athletes want to gain size. Lifting heavy weights and consuming mass quantities of food is favorable to reaching their goals, so the increased appetite from training is a positive attribute for them.
Some research suggests exercise doesn't always cause hunger but can curb it. "Exercise may lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite in the short term, while raising levels of peptide YY, a hormone that suppresses appetite," says study author David Stensel, Ph.D., reader in exercise metabolism at Loughborough University (Mickel, 2011). Exercise may initially suppress the participant’s appetite, especially after a vigorous session, due to the increased body temperature. However, as the temperature drops, the body will begin to release ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite. The important issue to concern ourselves with here is what is our goal? If the goal is to lose weight, exercise alone will not be sufficient, but it’s an important piece of the equation. The proper nutrition and caloric ingestion to expenditure must be adhered to so that goals are met and optimal health is achieved.
Muscular metabolism increases 5 to 15 times of the resting rate to provide the energy to for skeletal muscles to contract and depending upon the type and intensity of the exercise, 70 to 100 percent is released through heat (Swaka, et al, 1993). If the athlete has acquired sufficient heat acclimatization, their responses to the hot and humid environments are more favorable than those not accustomed to the aforementioned conditions. The same acclimatization effects are noted with respect to altitude. Considering that V02 Max decreases approximately 2.6% for every 1000 feet above 3200 feet, the amount of available oxygen is less and the cardiovascular system must work much harder for the same workload at lower altitudes (Levine, 2002). If a fighter has a bout scheduled in a high altitude arena, their trainers will move the training camp to the high altitude location several weeks prior to the event to help offset these effects.
The human body is a complex machine that requires constant monitoring, exercise and proper nutrition to maintain optimal health. Even with all of these requirements, it’s a miraculous organism that has great adaptability and ability to cope with adverse conditions.
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Stipp, David. June 4, 2012. All men can’t jump.