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Inactivity’s Heartbreaking Consequences

Move More & Live Longer

couple jogging along a lake

By John Salak —

The U.S. adult population just got hit with some heart-stopping news. Less than seven percent of the group has good cardiometabolic health, according to research out of Tufts University.

This percentage is not only frightening, but the university also warns that it signifies a devastating national health crisis that requires urgent action.

The Tufts team reached its conclusion after evaluating Americans in five different ways: levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, adiposity (overweight and obesity), and the presence or absence of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes or similar problems.

Only 6.8 percent of U.S. adults showed they were in decent shape across all five measurements as of 2018. What may be more worrying is that the cardiometabolic health of Americans has declined sharply between 1999 and 2018, the span that covered that data Tufts researchers examined.

“These numbers are striking. It’s deeply problematic that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, fewer than 1 in 15 adults have optimal cardiometabolic health,” reported Meghan O’Hearn, the study’s lead author. “We need a complete overhaul of our healthcare system, food system, and built environment because this is a crisis for everyone, not just one segment of the population.”

O’Hearn’s team took a unique approach to its research, focusing on determining various levels of cardio health rather than examining whether disease was present. “We need to shift the conversation because the disease is not the only problem,” she noted. “We don’t just want to be free of disease. We want to achieve optimal health and well-being.”

The research also identified large disparities between people of different sexes, ages, races and ethnicities and education levels. Adults with less education, for example, were half as likely to have optimal health compared to those with more education. In addition, Mexican Americans also fared worse than others. They registered just one-third the optimal levels compared to non-Hispanic White adults. 

“This is really problematic. Social determinants of health such as food and nutrition security, social and community context, economic stability and structural racism put individuals of different education levels, races and ethnicities at an increased risk of health issues,” added Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author and dean of Tuffs’s Friedman School 

Against the dire news from Tufts came a glimmer of good news from Canada’s Simon Fraser University. After working with survey data from more than 100,000 individuals in 21 different countries, it was reported that one of the easiest ways to improve general and cardio health is to get up and move, especially for those who spend six, eight or more hours sitting at their desks.

Failure to launch is no small matter. It puts sitters at a greater risk of death, Simon Fraser researchers discovered. In fact, they found that people who sit for six to eight hours a day have a 12-13 percent greater risk of early death and heart disease than those who don’t. Six more than eight hours a day and the increased risk rises to 20 percent. 

“The overarching message here is to minimize how much you sit,” said Scott Lear, the study’s co-leader. “If you must sit, getting in more exercise during other times of the day will offset that risk.”

Even a small amount of activity can make a substantial difference in a person’s health.

“For those sitting more than four hours a day, replacing a half-hour of sitting with exercise reduced the risk by two percent,” Lear noted. “With only one in four Canadians meeting the activity guidelines, there’s a real opportunity here for people to increase their activity and reduce their chances of early death and heart disease.”

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