By Kim Martin, RD

danceAfter a celebratory, over-indulgent evening (or weekend) most of us feel the urge (or rather guilt-induced-obligation) to do some exercise or eat a few celery sticks to ensure our waistlines do not increase!

I’m all for healthy eating and regular exercise in order to control weight, but in this article I want to present the benefits of being physically active that go beyond mere weight management or loss.

As a background, let’s flip the coin and look at what happens if we are physically inactive (i.e. sedentary). An article by Handschin and Spiegelman from 2008 summarized this into the great graphic below:

The Clinical Consequences of Inactivity


There are a LOT of conditions mentioned in this graphic. I would just like to mention 2 take-home points from this image:

1. A lot of the diseases mentioned are what we call the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) of lifestyle such as obesity, diabetes, heart-disease. These are all preventable and secondarily manageable through a healthy diet and exercise.

2. There is a substantial body of evidence that suggests low-grade systemic inflammation is the root cause of many of these conditions. (click here) for my article on inflammation.

There is actually a brilliant (and short and concise) video on this topic that I would recommend watching by Dr Mike Adams. See the following link: (click) In this video he explains that even 20-30 minutes of exercise per day (or ≥150 minutes per week), can lead to:

  • 47% reduction in rate of pain and disability in patients with knee arthritis
  • 50% reduction in progression to dementia and Alzheimer’s in older patients
  • 58% reduction in progression to frank diabetes (when combined with lifestyle interventions) in high risk patients
  • 41% reduction in risk of hip fracture in post-menopausal women who had 4 hours per week (240minutes)
  • 48% reduction in anxiety
  • 30% of people were relieved from depression, with a jump to 47% with increased exercise
  • 23% reduced risk of all-cause mortality in 10 000 Harvard Alumni followed for 12 years.

His take-home message from this video was basically a recommendation of limiting the amount of time sitting and sleeping to 23 and a half hours per day.

Inactivity: the Fourth Leading Underlying Cause of Mortality

It has been estimated by the WHO that 3.3million people worldwide die each year due to physical inactivity, making it the fourth leading underlying cause of mortality.2 In subsequent research, cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) has been shown as the most significant predictor of all-cause mortality.2 Basically, being physically inactive was shown to be the greatest predictor of risk of death./

A systematic review was conducted in 2010 looking at the benefit of physical activity in terms of decreased mortality, morbidity and disease risk. What was interesting was that they compared individuals with a high body mass index (BMI) and good aerobic fitness, to individuals with a low BMI and low physical activity.

The researchers found that the overweight, but physically active, individuals had a lower risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality than those who were weren’t overweight, but not active. The overweight group however, did still have an increased risk for the incidence of type 2 diabetes and prevalence of cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors.3 It is important to note that these results were only applicable to individuals with a BMI of ≤35kg/m2.

Final Points
We should all aim to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week (5 out of the 7). This is not just for weight loss or weight maintenance, but to achieve wellness and improve your quality of life!

1. Handschin C, Spiegelman BM. The role of exercise and PGC1α in inflammation and chronic disease. 2008 July 24; 453(7203): 463-469. doi:10.1038/nature07206.
2. World Health Organization. Global Health Risks. 2009. (cited 18 Oct 2014)(accessed 18 Oct 2014).
3. Fogelholm M. Physical activity, fitness and fatness: relations to mortality, morbidity and disease risk factors. A systematic review. Obes Rev. 2010 Mar;11(3):202-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2009.00653.x.