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Sedentary Lifestyle

Exercise and an active lifestyle have many benefits to health. Conversely, a lack of exercise is detrimental to overall health and is specifically associated with several health problems. People with a history of heart disease or over the age of forty should consult a healthcare professional before starting an exercise program.

Health Problems Associated with a Sedentary Lifestyle

(The following list is comprehensive, although not necessarily exhaustive. Contact your health care professional for more information.)

Aerobic Capacity

A sedentary lifestyle reduces the body's aerobic capacity, meaning that less exercise can be tolerated, and only at a lower level of intensity.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)

The prostate is a small gland that surrounds the neck of the bladder and urethra in men. Its major function is to contribute to seminal fluid. If the prostate enlarges or swells, it can put pressure on the urethra, acting like a partial clamp and causing urinary symptoms. This condition is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Men who are physically active have been reported to have a lower risk of BPH; the cause of this relationship is believed due to affects of exercise on parts of the nervous system.1

Cancer

Cancer is a general term for more than 100 diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Americans. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to cancers of the lung,2 colon, breast, and prostate,3 but evidence regarding protection against breast cancer remains somewhat inconsistent.4 Some effects of exercise in reducing cancer risks may be linked to how hormone levels are indirectly altered by physical activity.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, while exercise increases protective HDL cholesterol,5 an effect that occurs even from walking.6 Exercisers have a relatively low risk of heart disease.7 People over forty years of age or who have heart disease should talk with their doctor before starting an exercise program; overdoing it can actually trigger heart attacks.8

Cholesterol (High)

Although it is by no means the only major risk factor, elevated serum cholesterol is clearly associated with a high risk of heart disease. Exercise increases protective HDL cholesterol,9 an effect that occurs even from walking.10 Exercisers have a relatively low risk of heart disease.11 People over forty years of age or who have heart disease should talk with their doctor before starting an exercise program; overdoing it can actually trigger heart attacks.12

Diabetes

People with diabetes cannot properly process glucose, a sugar the body uses for energy. As a result, glucose stays in the blood, causing blood glucose to rise. At the same time, however, the cells of the body can be starved for glucose. Diabetes can lead to poor wound healing, higher risk of infections, and many other problems involving the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.

Exercise helps decrease body fat13 and improves insulin sensitivity.14 Exercisers are less likely to develop type 2, or noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.15 People with type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, who exercise require less insulin.16 However, exercise can induce low blood sugar or even occasionally increased blood sugar.17 Therefore, diabetics should never begin an exercise program without consulting a healthcare professional.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complex syndrome with no known cause or predictable cure. Its predominant symptom is severe muscle pain, although other symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, low-grade fever, swollen lymph nodes, insomnia, frequent abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression, may also exist.18 Low-intensity exercise may improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Patients who exercise regularly have been reported to suffer less severe symptoms than those who remain sedentary.19,20,21

Hypertension

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. The cause of most hypertension remains unknown. Daily exercise can lower blood pressure significantly.22 A twelve-week program of Chinese T'ai Chi was reported to be almost as effective as aerobic exercise in lowering blood pressure in sedentary elderly people with high blood pressure.23

Immune Function

The immune system is an intricate network of specialized tissues, organs, cells, and chemicals that works to protect the body from invading microorganisms. Moderate exercise improves immune function,24 although excessive exercise has been reported to have a detrimental effect on immune function.25

Menopause

Menopause is the cessation of the monthly female menstrual cycle. Sedentary women are more likely to have moderate or severe hot flashes compared with women who exercise.26,27 In one trial, menopausal symptoms were reduced immediately after aerobic exercise.28

Mortality

A clear association exists between a sedentary lifestyle and increased mortality (risk of death).29

Obesity

A sedentary lifestyle greatly increases the likelihood of obesity.30

Osteoporosis

People with osteoporosis have brittle bones, which increases the risk of bone fracture, particularly in the hip, spine, and wrist. Exercise is known to help protect against bone loss.31 The more weight-bearing exercise done by men and postmenopausal women, the greater their bone mass and the lower the risk of osteoporosis. Walking is sometimes considered the perfect weight-bearing exercise. For premenopausal women, exercise is also important, but taken to extreme, it can be overdone. Exercise so excessive that it leads to cessation of the menstrual cycle actually appears to contribute to osteoporosis.32

Stroke

Strokes are caused either by a lack of blood supply to the brain or by hemorrhage within the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that is damaged, a stroke can cause coma, reversible or irreversible paralysis, speech problems, and dementia. Regular exercise has been linked to a lower risk of stroke incidence.33

References

1. Platz EA, Kawachi I, Rimm EB, et al. Physical activity and benign prostatic hyperplasia. Arch Intern Med 1998;158:2349-56.

2. Thune I, Lund E. The influence of physical activity on lung-cancer risk. Int J Cancer 1997;70:57-62.

3. Moore MA, Park CB, Tsuda H. Physical exercise: a pillar for cancer prevention? Eur J Cancer Prev 1998;7:177-93.

4. Fintor L. Exercise and breast cancer risk: lacking consensus. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999;91:825-7.

5. Reaven PD, McPhillips JB, Barrett-Connor EL, Criqui MH. Leisure time exercise and lipid and lipoprotein levels in an older population. J Am Geriatr Soc 1990;38:847-54.

6. Duncan JJ, Gordon NF, Scott CB. Women walking for health and fitness--how much is enough? JAMA 1991;266:3295-9.

7. Pekkanen J, Marti B, Nissinen A, Tuomilehto J. Reduction of premature mortality by high physical activity: a 20-year follow-up of middle-aged Finnish men. Lancet 1987;1:1473-7.

8. Willich SN, Lewis M, Lowel H, et al. Physical exertion as a trigger of acute myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med 1993;329:1684-90.

9. Reaven PD, McPhillips JB, Barrett-Connor EL, Criqui MH. Leisure time exercise and lipid and lipoprotein levels in an older population. J Am Geriatr Soc 1990;38:847-54.

10. Duncan JJ, Gordon NF, Scott CB. Women walking for health and fitness--how much is enough? JAMA 1991;266:3295-9.

11. Pekkanen J, Marti B, Nissinen A, Tuomilehto J. Reduction of premature mortality by high physical activity: a 20-year follow-up of middle-aged Finnish men. Lancet 1987;1:1473-7.

12. Willich SN, Lewis M, Lowel H, et al. Physical exertion as a trigger of acute myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med 1993;329:1684-90.

13. Hersey III WC, Graves JE, Pollack ML, et al. Endurance exercise training improves body composition and plasma insulin responses in 70- to 79-year-old men and women. Metabol 1994;43:847-54.

14. Rasmussen OW, Lauszus FF, Hermansen K. Effects of postprandial exercise on glycemic response in IDDM subjects. Diabetes Care 1994;17:1203.

15. Helmrich SP, Ragland DR, Leung RW, Paffenbarger RS. Physical activity and reduced occurrence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med 1991;325:147-52.

16. Grimm J-J, Muchnick S. Type I diabetes and marathon running. Diabetes Care 1993;16:1624 [letter].

17. Bell DSH. Exercise for patients with diabetes--benefits, risks, precautions. Postgrad Med 1992;92:183-96 [review].

18. Wolfe F, Ross K, Anderson J, Russell J. Aspects of fibromyalgia in the general population: Sex, pain threshold, and FM symptoms. J Rheumatol 1995;22(1):151-5.

19. Wilke W. Fibromyalgia: Recognizing and addressing the multiple interrelated factors. Postgrad Med 1996;100(1):153-170.

20. Carette S. Fibromyalgia 20 years later: What have we really accomplished? J Rheumatol 1995;22(4):590-4.

21. Mengshail AM, Komnaes HB, Forre O. The effects of 20 weeks of physical fitness training in female patients with fibromyalgia. Clin Exp Rheumatol 1992;10:345-9.

22. Kukkonen K, Rauramaa R, Voutilainene E, Lansimies E. Physical training of middle-aged men with borderline hypertension. Ann Clin Res 1982;14(Suppl 34):139-45.

23. Young DR, Appel LG, Jee SH, Miller ER III. The effect of aerobic exercise and T'ai Chi on Blood pressure in older people: results of a randomized trial. J Am Geriatr Soc 1999;47:277-84.

24. Pedersen BK, Ostrowski K, Rohde T, et al. Nutrition, exercise and the immune system. Proc Nutr Soc 1998;57(1):43-7.

25. McKenzie DC. Markers of excessive exercise. Can J Appl Physiol 1999;24:66-73.

26. Ivarsson T, Spetz AC, Hammar M. Physical exercise and vasomotor symptoms in postmenopausal women. Mauritas 1998;29:139-46.

27. Hammar M, Berg G, Lindgren R. Does physical exercise influence the frequency of postmenopausal hot flushes? Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 1990;69:409-12.

28. Slaven L, Lee C. Mood and symptom reporting among middle-aged women: the relationship between menopausal status, hormone replacement therapy, and exercise participation. Health Psychol 1997;16:203-8.

29. Erikssen G, Liestol K, Bjornholt J, et al. Changes in physical fitness and changes in mortality. Lancet 1998;352:759-62.

30. Samaras K, Kelly PJ, Chiano MN, et al. Genetic and environmental influences on total-body and central abdominal fat: the effect of physical activity in female twins. Ann Intern Med 1999;130:873-82.

31. Chow R, Harrison JE, Notarius C. Effect of two randomised exercise programmes on bone mass of healthy postmenopausal women. Br Med J 1987;295:1441-4.

32. Lloyd T, Triantafyllou SJ, Baker ER, et al. Women athletes with menstrual irregularity have increased musculoskeletal injuries. Med Sci Sports Exercise 1986;18(4):374-9.

33. Lee IM, Hennekens CH, Berger K. Exercise and risk of stroke in male physicians. Stroke 1999;30:1-6.

 
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