A quarter of British young adults walk “only when necessary,” resulting in less than 5 minutes of activity per day, according to a new study by health insurance company Bupa.
The survey, conducted on 2,000 British adults, focused on young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. The researchers found that, although the British Heart Foundation recommends a minimum of 30 minutes per day spent walking, the average woman walked only 12 minutes per day, and the average man walked only 8 minutes. 15 percent of adults decided to walk somewhere but gave up partway through (switching to public transportation) at least once a week.
Parents aged 42 to 54 largely attributed their children’s sedentism to new technology, such as smart phones and social media, and said that they had walked more at the same age. The young adults themselves, however, had different explanations.
The most common excuse given for not walking was “I don’t have anyone to walk with.” Women typically cited poor weather or fatigue, while men typically blamed lack of time or a busy schedule.
Among adults in general, the most common excuses were weather (31 percent), lack of time (26 percent), lack of fitness (12 percent), not feeling safe (11 percent) and feeling too tired (11 percent).
“It’s so easy to make numerous excuses but there are many health benefits to walking,” said Bupa’s UK Medical Director, Paula Franklin. “For most people it is the most accessible form of physical activity, which is also free and can be great fun.
Serious health risks
The findings are of particular concern given the risks of sedentism on the one hand and the fact that people are neglecting such an easy form of exercise on the other.
“Walking can usually fit easily into your daily routine and something as simple as choosing to walk even part of the way to work instead of taking the car or bus can have a huge impact on your health,” Franklin said.
“For example, adding just 20 minutes walking to your day can dramatically reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and strokes.”
In addition to obesity and heart disease, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and spinal problems. As people become less active, doctors are increasingly seeing these diseases in a younger demographic.
Stating that the most common type of diabetes – type 2 diabetes – is primarily caused by obesity, he said, “We are finding more young people aged between 25-30 years getting diabetes as compared to the earlier trend of adults aged between 45-50 developing the illness,” said physician Rejesh Naik, a member of the Indian Medical Association.
Another Indian doctor, Preeti Doshi, who runs the pain clinic at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, also blamed sedentism for health problems striking earlier in life. “Sedentary lifestyle, desk jobs, no exercise and poor posture attribute to spinal problem[s] which [are] affecting the age group of 35-55 the most,” he said.
A childhood problem?
Although the Bupa study focused on young adults, a recent study of Scottish children found that children are now becoming sedentary even as toddlers, debunking the idea that children are “naturally” or spontaneously more active than adults. Indeed, the researchers found that the total energy expenditure, physical activity and sedentary behaviors of 78 three-year-olds were equivalent to those of sedentary or only lightly active adults. The children were still largely sedentary two years later. On average, they were expending 200 fewer calories than recommended each day, thereby starting on the path to obesity.