There’s a killer lurking in the lifestyle of many of us and it’s something you might not guess right away. The killer is immobility. It’s usually ascribed to reduced physical activity because of disease, injury or surgery. Caregivers of the elderly know that immobility can lead to bedsores, pneumonia and death. And the knowledge is out there that consuming lots of calories without exercise can lead to obesity and diabetes. But new research is warning us that our lack of physical activity can cause cancers.
What Kind of Cancers Are We Talking About
Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society writes: The net results are that increased weight and physical inactivity have led to higher incidence rates for a number of cancers associated with these risk factors. Postmenopausal breast cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, uterine cancer and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus have increased in frequency in the United States. Colorectal cancer would have probably been on the list as well, were it not for the fact that more people are getting screened or having polyps removed before they become cancerous.
In our current population, we see clearly the problem of increased weight from inactivity and poor diet. We also hear frequently that the rise in Type 2 diabetes is directly related to being overweight. But cancers? That statistic surprised and concerned me. AND WE HAVE TO REVERSE IT.
Take The Inactivity Quiz
Ask yourself if any of this applies. (note: these questions refer to driving a car, not riding a bike) You–
- always drive around to find the closest parking space near your destination;
- sit at a desk 5-8 hours a day;
- sit in a car, bus or train 30 minutes to an hour or more twice a day commuting;
- sit in a chair or on a couch every night for 2-3 hours watching TV or reading or emailing;
- drive down the block or around the corner to see a friend or pick up your child;
- don’t own hats, gloves, boots, umbrellas that might allow you to walk in inclement weather instead of driving;
- make promises to walk , run, exercise etc and break them—often;
- live in a community where it’s extremely difficult for you to shop, see a doctor, go to a school, church or a park without driving;
- use a car to get out, to deal with feelings of isolation;
- don’t know the names of the people who live two doors down or across the street from you;
How did you do? 10 yes answers and you’ve totally left the lifestyle of your youth when walking to school, the park, riding bikes and knowing everyone in the neighborhood was the norm.
5 yes answers—good, you are chipping away at the problem and realize changes are needed.
0 yes answers and somehow you have broken out of the constraints of modern living.
Interpreting the Quiz
The questions reflect the reason many of us are challenged when it comes to finding more ways to be active—our environment. Most of us live far enough from our jobs that walking, especially in inclement weather, is impossible. Subdivisions that dot our communities are designed like fortresses—when the garage door goes down, you have no idea what’s going on with your neighbors. Your community is rarely about walking down the block on a summer night to the park, biking for ice cream, inviting the neighbors to a bonfire, walking into town just to see who’s around. More often your community is on the internet or the television—and you are sitting.
What Can We Do About Our Environments?
People working in universal design are looking at neighborhoods, communities and urban design to see how they can incorporate the positive aspects of closer, hospitable living into future neighborhoods or remodeled areas. They know that people living in rural areas or in typical suburban settings feel isolated 1) because they have little access to other homes and families; 2) car use may not be possible yet travel to destinations requires a car, or 3) the neighborhood itself lacks safe places to walk or bike.
Change in design will help us change our inactivity habits and pass on activity habits to future generations. Throughout the country there is lots going on to this effect. The National Center for Safe Routes to School is working with health departments and schools to encourage children to walk to and from. Committee members carefully map out a safe path, considering traffic crossings, questionable neighborhoods and even the safety of the sidewalk itself. Parents sign a rotating schedule and walk with a number of children to and from school. Individual families have been organizing “walking” pools instead of car pools because they know it’s better for their children.
You can read more about similar changes in the article The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children, written by the environmental health committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Parents and grandparents!! Here are a few key points from the article:
- An estimated 32% of American children are overweight, and physical inactivity contributes to this.
- If we modify our environments we can address the risk of automobile traffic to our children and make walking and biking more conducive.
- Policies that promote more active lifestyles among children and adolescents will enable them to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Another major take-away is that parents and grandparents who get outside with children—ride bikes, play games, take walks etc—are also benefitting and fighting the negatives of inactivity.
There Is Some Good News
But lots of us will say—“Hey, I am active. I do –” and list a bunch of house chores, yard chores. That’s good. Here’s why: such activity is referred to as nonexercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT. The concept was proposed by Dr. James Levine. Definition “…the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than volitional sporting-like exercise. NEAT includes all those activities that render us vibrant, unique and independent beings such as dancing, going to work or school, shoveling snow, playing the guitar, swimming or walking in the modern Mall.” Levine says that NEAT burns an average of 330 cals per day in healthy persons.
More examples of NEAT:
- wash dishes instead of using the dishwasher-you save on energy too;
- cook your dinner instead of ordering food-you save money and often enjoy the creativity that preparing a meal can bring
- walk to a neighbor’s house instead of driving
- take the stairs instead of the elevator at work
- avoid elevators and escalators when shopping
- park at the other end of the mall from the store you are heading to
- wash your car instead of taking it to a car wash
- clean your own house
- put back into your life that list of chores—there are quite a few on that list that you can do yourself and you won’t be sitting to do most of them