Old or young: don’t just sit there!

We all need more of this: Surfing Sand Bay ahead of the storm as the winds off Lake Ontario move down river. NCPR Photo of the Day by: John Sherman, Barneveld, NY

More of us need to go outside and play! (NCPR photo of the day by John Sherman, Barneveld, NY: Surfing Sand Bay ahead of the storm as the winds off Lake Ontario move down river.)

Summer is in full flush, with so many things to do. But, whatever the season, more and more research suggests everybody needs to get up off the couch!  (Or at least move around while rooting for Argentina or Germany on the big screen.)

When it comes to good health, there’s the importance of diet – which has been summed up pretty succinctly by Michael Pollan with this advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”

We’ve all been told to get regular exercise because being sedentary has many negative health consequences. But there’s growing evidence that basic activity levels (what you do when not out jogging) play into this picture too.

“Sitting is bad for you” is one message that made the rounds lately. Actually, a whole lot of headlines went straight for the fear factor, saying excessive sitting will kill you. (Dale Hobson weighs in on which of those risks he’s willing to take in this Listening Post from 2013.)

Those who study facts and trends are warning that the next generation is on track to reverse a steady increase in life expectancy by leading shorter, less-healthy lives than their parents did. The consequences of that – in terms of lost productivity, higher health care costs and plain old human misery – are pretty profound.

A July 9 post by Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times health blog “Well” calls attention to new studies that young people (kids!) are just not getting enough physical action for basic fitness either:

For the past few decades, accumulating data and anecdotal evidence have shown that children in the United States are becoming more sedentary. Less than a third of young people ages 12 to 18 are said to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity for their age group, which would be about an hour a day of exercise.

Instead, epidemiological studies suggest, physical activity among American youngsters peaks before age 10, and perhaps as early as 2, and begins a steady and accelerating decline after that. By some reports, children typically spend eight to 10 hours a day in front of a television or computer screen, with their screen time rising in summer, when school doesn’t interfere.

Figure 4. Percentage of youth aged 12–15 who had adequate levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, by sex and survey period: United States, 1999–2004 and 2012

Figure 4. Percentage of youth aged 12–15 who had adequate levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, by sex and survey period: United States, 1999–2004 and 2012. (My comment: Note the downward trend in only a decade’s time.)

Physical activity perhaps peaking by age 2?!?! Yikes!

Supporting data come from a National Center for Health Statistics Data brief from May of this year “Cardiorespriratory Fitness Levels Among U.S. Youth Aged 12-15 Years: Untied States, 1999-2004 and 2012″.

The comments on that NYT post are wide-ranging in observations, comparisons and suggestions. Readers (presumably older) mention how common it used to be to do things like walk to school, engage in unsupervised play and do physical work around the house or family business. Technology, screen time, de-funding of P.E. in schools and plain old bad parenting all come up for a good deal of criticism too.

Perhaps this is less of an issue in our region, where the hard work of farming is still common and so much wilderness is close enough to enjoy.

But since technology isn’t going away, we may need to do more – collectively and individually – to keep from from dying of inactivity.

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One Response to “Old or young: don’t just sit there!”

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  1. oa says:

    Great post, Lucy. This is appalling.

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