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Get on your feet to live longer

columns Updated: Jan 25, 2015 17:42 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
live healthy


How you spend Republic Day could be a fairly accurate indicator of your health. Staying home to watch the parade will get you full points for national pride, but spending the day listening to talking heads replay and dissect every smile, nod or yawn will do nothing more than scrambling your brain and adding to your health spending.

What you should be doing instead is taking a leaf out of the parade participants' day - they walk 7 km or stand on floats for the roughly three hour duration of the parade.

Being inactive hurts your health more than obesity, and walking briskly for just 20 minutes a day helps lowers risk of early death, concluded a massive study of more than 334,000 European men and women this week. While inactivity increases weight and contributes to obesity, the new study establishes sedentary behaviour as a risk factor for early death independent of a person's weight.

Take a walk
Simply put, staying active gives you an edge over people who don't exercise, irrespective of what you weigh. Overweight people who are burn around 100 calories through exercise -- walking fast enough to be slightly out of breath for 20 minutes at a time -- each day lower their chances of getting a lifestyle disease, which is among the biggest cause of death for people under 70 years.

The European study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Exercise this week, analysed the link between physical inactivity, obesity and premature death after tracking 334,161 people between 1992 and 2000. The study found that exercise equivalent to just a 20 minute brisk walk each day - burning between 90 and 110 calories - takes a person from the inactive to moderately inactive group and reduces their risk of early death by between 16% and 30%. The benefits were highest for people with normal weight, but even those who were overweight and obese benefitted.

Get up, stand up
Another study this week made the same link between sitting during the day and risk of lifestyle diseases and early death. The Canadian study, published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine (, found that the negative effects of sitting time are more pronounced among those who do little or no exercise than among those who do.

"Avoiding sedentary time and getting regular exercise are both important for improving your health and survival," said study co-author Dr David Alter, associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. "It is not good enough to exercise for 30 minutes a day and be sedentary for 23 and half hours."

Weight and watch
Globally, 2.1 billion people are overweight or obese, with obesity-related causes killing more people than than starvation and undernutrition. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as breathlessness, asthma and sleep apnea, high cholesterol, musculoskeletal (bone and joint) problems and psycho-social disorders such as poor self image. Some cancers too, such as that of the breast, endometrial (lining of the uterus), prostate and colon, are associated with obesity.

One in eight adults in India are overweight or obese, reports the National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-06). Indians are at risk of lifestyle diseases at a lower Body Mass Index -- BMI, calculated by dividing the weight in kilos by height squared in metres -- of 23 because they have low muscles mass and high body fat, much of which is deposited at the abdomen, which raises risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Keeping this mind, India has lowered diagnostic cut-offs and now the healthy BMI for Indians is 18.5-23 kg/m2, lower than the international healthy range of 18.5-25.

Get the timing right
Dr Alter suggesst setting a target of reducing sitting time by two to three hours in a 12-hour day.

"The first step is to monitor sitting times -- once we start counting, we're more likely to change our behaviour," said Dr Alter. "Next is setting achievable goals and finding opportunities to incorporate greater physical activity -- and less time sitting -- into your daily life. For example, at work, stand up or move for one to three minutes every half hour; and when watching television, stand or exercise during commercials."

Breaking up into manageable standing segments works, such as standing or walking while taking a telephone call or around or taking a water-cooler or coffee break every hour at your workplace.

Or you could simply set a reminder to re-read this article standing up every hour to get your hourly shot of health.