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December 10, 2012

Inactivity isn't just lack of exercise

— The Newseum is a popular Washington D.C. tourist destination. It sort of memorializes sitting around and reading the newspaper, something that's being rapidly replaced by sitting around and reading boring postings on social media.

So perhaps it was fitting that public health specialists gathered at the Newseum last week for a four-hour panel discussion imaginatively titled "Inactivity in America: A Looming Public Health Crisis." At the energetic urging of my editor, I went and sat through all four hours of it.

Although it involved a lot of sitting, the discussion wasn’t only about our individual need to be more physically active; it mainly discussed how the country can adopt a mentality that says constant movement--as opposed to just doing exercises--is needed for a healthy lifestyle, not just for looking good or appearing to be fit on the surface.

The question that lingered over the conference and that each panel member tried to answer was why it's so hard for a lot of us to stay physically active and truly realize that constant movement can add years to our lives.

We’ve all heard of the reports, statistics and studies on the importance of being physically active, but inactivity in the United States and other developed countries is still not just a huge problem, it’s a full-on crisis. And based on the findings released in the conference, it’s time for health leaders and consumers to go into crisis mode.

Low fitness levels

According to recent study findings, 41 percent of all U.S. adults are inactive or underactive, and 25 to 35 percent of Americans have low respiratory fitness due to sitting most of the day, whether at work, at home or in the car.

When it comes to the adult population, the average person’s life just isn’t set up to include a lot of physical activity, since most towns in the U.S. are steeped in the car culture and many jobs force you to sit instead of walk, run or stand. 

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