Is it more dangerous to be lazy than to be fat? The media reports on a major new European study with the usual simple and hasty conclusion. Here’s a typical example:
The truth is not that simple. Asking what is worse, laziness or obesity, is the wrong question and mostly leads to prejudice. Understanding the real problem can provide an effective solution and improve the lives of many.
The study is large, but of the usual, simple and relatively cheap kind. It’s a questionnaire study about physical activity among about 300,000 Europeans, combined with measuring their weight and waist circumferences.
The result is that the quarter who reported significant inactivity – less than, say, a 20-minute walk every day – on average die slightly younger. This compared to people moving at least 20 minutes daily. For those who move more than that, no clear improvement was seen.
Media immediately jumps to the obvious, but far from proven explanation: that inactivity LEADS TO health problems. But this is just statistics from a survey, we can’t tell the cause. The opposite explanation is just as possible: that people with health problems move less than others.
For who would definitely want to leave the couch, chair or bed less than 20 minutes per day? Sick people, depressed people, people with severe obesity, people with disabling pain conditions, people who expose themselves to starvation dieting, people who are not feeling well.
If these people on average live shorter lives, it should not come as a surprise to anyone and we can’t hastily blame the multifaceted problems on inactivity alone.
Of course it’s a good idea to move more than 20 minutes per day, but nothing indicates that this is the right place to start for everyone.
If you really don’t want to move there may be another problem to tackle first. Perhaps a diet change, weight loss, health improvement or better sleep is what is needed in order to make you feel good and get enough energy that you’ll want to move… a lot more.
The truth is that you can start at any point you wish, but the positive effects then tend to spread. Good luck!