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Lazy Britons: Are we driving ourselves towards obesity?

Posted in Personal Health 30 Nov, 2012

Despite the growing popularity of London’s bike hire scheme and the summers Olympic games to inspire us to get physically active, Briton is according to researchers becoming a lazy nation. Furthermore we are walking 80 fewer miles compared to just a decade ago. This lack of physical exercise has created what the Telegraph has coined a “silent epidemic” that subsequently is putting many people at risk of early deaths. Researchers predict that within the next 10-15 years, approximately three quarters of the current population could experience ill health due to excessive weight.

For years when seeking ways to tackle obesity we have been obsessing about what we eat. But by doing so, have we turned a blind eye and failed to monitor how much we move? Thus the amount we move and participate in physical activities according to the latest study is essential in preventing weight gain and obesity.

A lack of exercise

While in some cases it can be down to complex reasons, it is well documented that obesity for many people is attributed through the over consumption of food and drink, resulting in the accumulation of excess body fat. Although what we eat is a big factor in weight gain, a lack of exercise can be just as important. Thus if energy intake (from food) is significantly greater than energy expenditure (through exercise), fewer calories will be burned. As a result our body will store these excess calories as fat.

A sedentary lifestyle

In todays society we are living a much more sedentary lifestyle than ever. In comparison to previous generations many jobs today do not require a large amount of energy to be used. The convenience of being able to drive your car to simply go to your local shop, and people’s reliance on public transport as a substitute for walking no matter how small the distance means that modern society is using less energy than ever before. Technology has also played its part in our ‘couch potato’ culture and lack of physical movement with polls suggesting that Britons watch on average 30 hours of TV a week.

It is startling to think that since the 70s the amount of journeys that are taken by foot have halved from 44 % to just 22%. Worryingly according to the Telegraph, today, “a fifth of all cars cover a mile or less.” In turn this has created a number of health complications such as type2 diabetes, cancers and heart disease that potentially could be fatal or could greatly reduce our quality of life. So dangerous is a lack of exercise that researchers have warned “across the population, lack of physical activity causes roughly the same level of ill health that smoking does.”

Reliance on medication

The significance of exercise with the fight against obesity is further accentuated should an individual opt for weight loss medication. Following a consultation with a doctor, prescription weight loss treatment will effectively help with weight loss and obesity, if a patient maintains a healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise. Without implementing such changes, weight loss medication is unlikely to be as effective.

Tacking action

In order to try to tackle the problem of our lack of mobility, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), has published new guidance to tackle this crisis, by aiming to get councils, business and schools to become more active and tasks such as walking or cycling to work ‘the normal’ for short journeys. However, other suggestions to tackle obesity and increase the population’s activity levels have not been without controversy. Many council bosses have proposed plans to increase parking charges as a way to get more people to walk their way to a healthier lifestyle. But surely such an action is likely to unfairly affect those on lower incomes, as well as harm small businesses that are already fragile in an economy that is struggling.

Finding a solution

It is harsh to suggest that if the average person decides to take public transport or drive their car to work than he or she is lazy. People’s lifestyles are much more hectic than ever before and as a result transport is needed to cram as many things in one day as possible. Furthermore, the job crisis and fear of unemployment has resulted in many people to take jobs much further from their homes, hence the reliance on public transport.

But we also have to meet in the middle. Although such reasons may be deterrents to walk or cycle more, physical exercise even for just 40 minutes a day can help to make a difference. Even if it means parking the car a few streets away from work or from the shopping centre, getting off the bus a few stops earlier, or putting more intensity into household chores, such small changes to increase physical movement and introduce some activity into our lives is vital. As warned by the study, we are only one step away from obesity.

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