Lack of physical activity is on the rise, particularly in affluent countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In a recent study, the organization estimates that more than a quarter of the planet’s population is not getting enough physical exercise.
Wealthier countries appear to be most affected, primarily as a result of a significant increase in, and transition to, more sedentary white collar and desk jobs, and the ready availability of cars and public transit to access these jobs. People working these types of jobs typically must travel to and from work, which in turn consumes more of their leisure time, leaving less opportunity for exercise.
Lower-income countries still require a large number of workers in more active and physically demanding jobs, and a lack of access to public transit means these workers must walk or bicycle to and from their workplace on a daily basis.
Another factor contributing to the increase in inactivity levels in affluent countries might be the corresponding rise in screen time (Netflix, social media, texting, internet browsing, video games, etc.), particularly among those in the younger generations.
Lead author of the WHO study, Dr. Regina Guthold said, “Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health.”
The health risks associated with insufficient physical activity are fairly obvious: increased rates of obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease, to name some of the most prominent. But the more subtle and insidious affects on our mental health and emotional well-being are sometimes overlooked in such studies.
Emotional health is not just the absence of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. It means increased resilience in challenging situations, better control over behaviour, and healthier relationships. Emotional health means being better equipped to contribute meaningfully to society in a creative way, and having a genuine desire to do so.
As global inactivity rises across the planet’s populations, so to do the costs of treating the resulting health problems, both physical and mental.
But what of the hidden costs of a population increasingly incapable of coping with the stresses of everyday life, of a population more disconnected from one another, and less and less capable of or inclined to come up with creative and meaningful solutions for an increasingly troubled world?
These losses may be the least measured but most significant as we move deeper into the 21st century, and hopefully an inspiring incentive for getting us off the couch, away from the tablets, flatscreens and smartphones, and back into our hiking clothes, yoga pants, and soccer shorts.