I Want You to Live
I am an exercise physiologist, and I also work as a physiotherapist in a major hospital. One of the privileges of this position is that it lets me work on a larger scale, treating people at a lower cost, many of whom cannot afford my private consults or personal training sessions. This gives me a broader view of what the general health status and behavious of people are, and to spot important trends therein.
What I’ve seen worries me.
It’s not Just Age
You see, one of the things I do is cardiac rehabilitation. Specifically, I help people recover from heart attacks and heart surgery using exercise to increase fitness, reduce risk of future attacks, and regain previous level of function.
And one trend I’m seeing is younger entrants into the program. Heart attacks used to be something we associated with people in their 50s. Then it was the 40s. My experience is that there are more people in their 30s coming in now. If I were to do a quick estimate I would say the range is 36-39 years old.
Let’s shift focus to another major killer – diabetes. This condition is characterized by high glucose levels in the blood, which can wreak destruction on almost every system in the body. It is the leading cause of blindness, often results in lower limb amputation, and causes heart and kidney diseases. In the past the expection for developing type 2 diabetes (the lifestyle-related kind) was about age 45. Now it’s lowered. And we’re seeing people who are developing it even in their teens. Young people who may join the ranks of those losing their sight, their limbs and their lives to this disease.
Heart attacks at 36.
Diabetes even before 35.
ALIVE AFTER 35.
What’s the odd one out?
In determining the biggest why, I’ll tell you a common thread holding it altogether.
Most of these people are inactive.
I bet you were expecting me to say “obese” right?
The fact is, inactivity is a far more common cause of disease than just fatness per se. Many people are fat but fit, far fitter in fact than the average thin person on the street. When I talk to patients who exercise to improve their diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol and high blood pressure (just to name a few!) I find being inactive a far greater commonality than simply being fat.
Common occupations are the sedentary occupations, the sitting jobs. Accountants, IT professionals, telephone operators, and businessmen. Businessmen suffer the double whammy of having to entertain, which means fine dining and rich foods, which means loads of fat and cholesterol.
Research increasingly supports the role of inactivity in the development of disease and the corollary decrease in quality of Life. In fact, so deadly is being sedentary that biomedical science Professor Frank Booth of the University of Missouri-Columbia coined the phrase sedentary death syndrome. He wanted people to take this phenomenon seriously, and knew he had to come up with something catchy to get mindshare… FAST.
Researchers have certainly found plenty of substantiating evidence for this relationship. Dr Alicia Thorp (2010) of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute found that sitting time and TV watching time substantially increased the risk for cardiometabolic events, whether someone was obese or not. Epidemiologist at the University of Louisiana Peter Katzmarzyk (2012) estimates that life expectancy could increase by two years if sitting is reduced to less than three hours a day, and 1.4 years if television viewing was reduced to less than two hours a day.
This suggests that merely moving from sedentary to just a little more active could have dramatic effects even if we can’t exercise the commonly recommended 150min a week. Indeed, studies like that conducted by Dr Genevieve Healy (2008) of the University of Queensland showed that people who took more breaks from sitting showed better blood glucose and cholesterol levels. And these breaks were brief and low intensity, such as a short walk to restroom, or just getting up to stand!
Here’s Why I’m Scared – and why YOU Should Be
I have a passion for Life and living it to the full. I am impassioned about spreading the message that it doesn’t have to be the beginning of the end when we hit the big 35, after which it all goes downhill. That’s why I started AA35.
But in order to live Life fully, we need to be able to LIVE in the first place. What I’m seeing now shows me that even that basic requirement is in jeopardy.
What terrifies me is that the tragedies I have witnessed are mostly AVOIDABLE, simply by adopting a less sedentary lifestyle – sitting less, moving more. The dangers to Life itself, let alone living a full one, speak for themselves.
But people are doing NOTHING about it.
People are doing nothing because they don’t believe it could happen to them. They think they’re young, only in their 30s or 40s and any worry is a far way off.
THEY ARE DEAD WRONG.
As someone who is way over 35, seeing many of my peers with heart attacks, diabetes and other life threatening diseases is sobering, frightening, and because much of it could be avoided, infuriating and frustrating. We deserve more, we deserve better. We don’t all have to submit to the ravages of disease and accept the turmoil it would mean to our Lives, not to mention the terrible anguish it would inflict on our loved ones.
Move It or Lose It
There are many slogans that have come and gone over the years, some bad, some worse, but few good. “Move it or lose it” is one of them, with “it” being your LIFE.
If we value our lives, or the people in it, then the most important foundation to lay for living Life fully, and enjoying the relationships that we have, is to be healthy.
If you want to even live, let alone live Life, then you absolutely have to start moving more if you aren’t already. We’re not even talking about exercise being the elixir of youth here, we’re talking basic staying alive and not getting disease or going before our time into that good night.
Because believe me. It won’t be gently.
Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J. E., Simmet, P. Z. and Owen, N. G. (2008) Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial asociations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care, 31 4: 661-666
Katzmarzyk, P.T. and Lee, I.M. (2012) Sedentary behaviour and life expectancy in the USA: a cause-deleted life table analysis. BMJ Open, Vol 2 (4)
Thorp AA, Healy GN, Owen N, Salmon J, Ball K, Shaw JE, Zimmet PZ, Dunstan DW. (2010) Deleterious associations of sitting time and television viewing time with cardiometabolic risk biomarkers: Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) study 2004–2005. Diabetes Care, 33:327–334