One of the most repeated pieces of medical advice given today is that people should do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. This regular activity is thought to promote a healthier body and ward off a host of ailments, including cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and even pre-mature death.
New research conducted on both sides of the Atlantic has confirmed the verity of this advice. It found that the absence of regular physical exercise is an actual cause of many of the risk factors associated with chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study combined the knowledge of experts from the University of Copenhagen and the Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine. The results of the study, which is partly EU funded, are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Prior to this research, the common thinking was that while exercise provided many health benefits, the lack of exercise simply meant that people missed out on these benefits. But according to the Professor Frank Booth of the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, this is not the case. 'Our findings indicated that if there is a lack of normal physical activity, a person greatly increases the risks of developing a chronic disease. Previously, we thought that not exercising just wasn’t healthy, but we didn’t think that a lack of activity could cause disease. That assumption was wrong.'
'A low level of daily physical activity not only doesn’t help your current health status, it could be the reason you got sick in the first place,' said Frank Booth, ‘Our study looked at what happened when a group of individuals reduced their daily physical activity.’
Professor Booth and researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted two different studies in Copenhagen. In the first study, participants were asked to reduce the amount of steps they took per day from 6 000 to 1 400 for three weeks. Instead of walking or taking the stairs, participants were instructed to use motorised transportation, such as a car or elevator, in every situation possible.
Researchers found that after two weeks of no exercise and very little activity, participants had much higher levels of glucose and fat and took a much longer time to clear the substances from their blood streams than before. The longer it takes the body to clear the blood stream of the substances, the higher the likelihood that a person will develop diabetes or other chronic diseases.
'When the doctor says to go and exercise, they are not just telling patients to do that to improve their health; increasing daily stepping could actually reverse a cause of chronic disease,’ says Prof Booth. ‘When extra fats and sugars (glucose) don’t clear the bloodstream, they go where we don’t want them and cause problems for our bodies’ typical metabolic functions.'
'We used to think that it is healthy to be physically active, but this study shows that it is dangerous to be inactive for just a couple of weeks,’ says co-author and lead investigator of the study, Professor Bente Klarlund Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen.
The study was conducted as part of EXGENESIS, a project financed through the ‘Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health’ thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).