Last night, The Lancet released a series of studies about physical activity and our health. As HuffPost Healthy Living’s Amanda L. Chan reported, approximately one in 10 deaths is associated with a lack of physical activity -- that’s almost as many deaths as can be attributed to smoking. Public health researchers are now considering sedentary lifestyle to be a global health crisis. Yet even though we all know that we must get more exercise, it remains difficult to find the time, stay motivated and see results.
But a growing body of research is dedicating itself to understanding what makes someone more likely to get off the couch and prioritize regular exercise. By learning the secrets of those who aren’t sedentary, medical professionals and policymakers can create strategies to help community fitness levels overall.
"Inactivity is a much greater health threat than obesity,” lead researcher, Adrian Bauman of University of Sydney told The Sydney Morning Herald. Bauman and colleagues reviewed more than 1,000 existing papers on factors that lead to decreased physical activity and found that, for the most part, those who were physically active tended to fit a profile. The researchers made as their threshold for each person, a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity per week -– that’s 30 minutes, five days a week.
The portrait of a person for whom fitness comes easily emerged from the analysis: he is young, white, male, wealthy and from a wealthy country. The researchers found that this fit person has confidence in his own ability to perform athletically, is usually not obese and was likely active early in his life, with the assistance of active parents.
Interestingly, while obesity was a predicting factor for sedentary lifestyle, the opposite was not true: the researchers reported that an active lifestyle was not associated with weight or obesity status.
Some preliminary research suggests that there may be a genetic component as well. A breakaway meta-analysis of several genetic studies found an association between being physically active and having genetic variants in several hormone receptors, including leptin -- which controls hunger regulation and is secreted by fat cells -- and in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control pleasure and "reward" centers in the brain.
This last genetic variation was most logical to the researchers. "Reward systems will be activated in individuals with above-average abilities, those who crave activity, and those who feel rewarded by accomplishing an activity," they wrote in the report. "Adverse effects will be reported in those who feel pain, fatigue, or even exertion."
For now, Bauman's team felt that the existing research was too incomplete to draw conclusive lessons from. But with some modifications, they hope to use information about the world's most active people to create public fitness initiatives. "A change in research could lead to scientific progress and increased relevance for design of physical activity interventions," they wrote.