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Physical Inactivity May Be as Deadly as Smoking

Failure to Get Recommended Amounts of Activity Is Tied to Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Cancer

By the Numbers

Just how many people are putting their health in jeopardy because they don't get enough exercise?

A separate Lancet study estimated that around the world, as many as 1 in 3 adults and 4 out of 5 teens between the ages of 13 and 15 are not getting recommended amounts of physical activity. For an adult, that's 150 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, a week. For teens, it's an hour of moderate activity each day.

Those numbers are even higher in the U.S. The study found that roughly 41% of adults in America don't get enough physical activity.

That study found that women of all ages were less likely than men to be physically active, and that people tend to sit around more as they age.

Why are we so inactive? Around the world, researchers say, people rely too much on cars and other kinds of motorized transport to get where they're going.

In the U.S., for example, less than 4% of people walk to work and less than 2% ride a bike to the office. That compares to about 20% of people who hoof it to the office in China, Germany, and Sweden. More than 20% pedal to work in China, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

And we sit too much. Around the world, about 42% of people say they sit for more than four hours each day. Nearly 70% of teens said they watched more than two hours of television each day.

Advice for the Inactive

Thyfault says one proven and inexpensive way to move more is to wear a pedometer. In one study, women who wore a pedometer with a goal of walking at least 10,000 steps a day were more physically active than those who set a goal to take a daily 30-minute walk.

While pedometers count the number of steps you take, they can't tell how fast you're going. Intensity is also an important part of the physical activity recommendations.

To make sure you're reaching at least moderate intensity, try to log at least 3,000 steps on the pedometer within 30 minutes, according to a 2009 study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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