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Pre-Olympics study finds third of humans physically inactive, inc. 63% of Brits

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The richer the nation in which you live, the greater the chance that you'll have a lifestyle that includes little physical activity. Nasty health problems are the likely result, but technology has the potential to address the issue.

So says a new study, Global physical activity levels: surveillance progress, pitfalls, and prospects, in medical journal The Lancet. The study ranks the United Kingdom as the eight most-inactive nation on earth, with 63.3% of residents declared inactive*, a definition one can achieve by failing to meet any of the following criteria:

  • 30 min of moderate-intensity physical activity on at least 5 days every week;
  • 20 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days every week;
  • An equivalent combination achieving 600 metabolic equivalent (MET)-min per week, where 1 MET is defined as the energy spent when an individual sits quietly.

As you'd expect, the paper points out that all this sloth isn't good for you. It also says that inactivity is even worse for policy-makers, who have to figure out what to do with populations that are more prone to disease as a result of their inactivity. To make matters worse, the study finds that adolescents are even more likely to be inactive.

Overall, however, the study paint a grim picture, stating that “Roughly three of every ten individuals aged 15 years or older—about 1.5 billion people—do not reach present physical activity recommendations.” Public health campaigns aimed at fixing this have largely failed, while activity levels continue to decline as nations become more wealthy even if individuals in those nations do not.

Adults inactivity is explained by technology such as motorised transport reducing the likelihood that individuals will indulge in any physical activity each day. Adolescent sloth was harder for the researchers to pin down, although one small ray of sunshine is the study's repeated statements that its data is spotty.

Which is where technology comes in as a possible helper, as the study says that when people use accelerometers it can gather better data than is possible with the self-reporting questionnaires used as the basis for this document. “These devices could have widespread practical application if equipment costs continue to fall and suffi cient eff orts are directed towards increasing technical skills and workforce capacity in countries of low and middle income,” the report says.

Such devices may also motivate people to move more: that's certainly the pitch the likes of Nike use to flog their iPhone-linked exercise kit. ®

*Other Reg-reader-rich nations did a little better. The USA is 46th, with 40.5% of its adult population inactive, while Australia is 53rd at 37.9%. Caanda is 63rd with 33.9% inactive. There's a graphical representation of this data here and a data-laden PDF here. Free registration may be needed to access both documents.

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