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An older adult lifts weights while young family member exercises with a ball.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (March 2021) highlights the major public health problems linked to physical inactivity. The findings stress the importance of physical activity to prevent early death and many chronic diseases.

Researchers studied data from 168 countries. They estimated how much early death (from any cause or preventable disease) could be avoided with physical activity. Diseases considered included:

They found that 7.2% of total deaths and 7.6% of deaths from heart disease are linked to physical inactivity worldwide. Also, diseases that don’t spread but are linked to physical inactivity ranged from 1.6% for hypertension to 8.1% for dementia.

Researchers compared the occurrence of disease related to physical inactivity among low-, middle-, and high-income levels. They found that physical inactivity levels in high-income countries were more than double those in low-income countries. The rate of diseases that don’t spread but are connected to lack of physical activity is greater in high-income countries. Middle-income countries fare worse overall, however, because of their higher populations.

What does it all mean? Physical inactivity reduces life span and overall health. (Note: Physical inactivity was defined as less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or less than 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.)

You can reduce your risk for early death and many chronic diseases by getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity. (See the guidelines for physical activity recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization).

Physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. It’s never too late to start moving. Physical therapists are movement experts who will partner with you to create a safe and effective program based on your needs and goals to get you moving.

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