Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of physical inactivity among adults age 50 years and older. Inactivity is defined as no activity beyond what one has to do just to get through the day (activities of daily living). When asked “During the past month, other than your regular job, did you participate in any physical activities or exercises such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking for exercise?”, 27.5% of the adults surveyed responded ‘no’ – indicating that more than one in four adults 50 and over are inactive.
The prevalence of inactivity varied by region. It was highest in the South (30.1%), followed by the Midwest (28.4%), Northeast (26.6%), and West (23.1%). The survey also found that inactivity was significantly higher for women, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks, and adults with one or more chronic diseases. Inactivity for cancer survivors was reported at just 31.6%.
We asked Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, managing director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society for her take on the new data.
“This report is a wake-up call and quite literally a ‘call to action.’ Being physically active reduces the risk of premature death and can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, including cancer. Physical activity also helps support improvements in quality of life and healthy aging. While we’ve known that the level of physical inactivity among adults is far too high, this report underscores the fact that inactivity is highest among those who could benefit the most from it.
“Adults with at least one chronic condition were more likely to be sedentary than those without a chronic condition. In the case of cancer, more than 31% of cancer survivors reported getting no physical activity outside of daily life. Studies have shown that exercise can improve cancer survivors’ physical functioning, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and happiness. In addition, studies among survivors of certain cancer types have shown that physically active survivors have a lower risk of recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.
“For those who do not have a history of cancer, the evidence is clear that being active and reducing sedentary behavior can help reduce the risk of a variety of types of cancer.
“The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone, including cancer survivors, strive to be active at for least 150 minutes per week and to avoid inactivity. To encourage and support all individuals in increasing their physical activity level is critically important to our mission to reduce cancer incidence and mortality, as well as to improve the quality of life of cancer survivors.
“It’s important to consider why many Americans are not meeting physical activity guidelines. And there are likely multiple reasons. What is evident, though, is that in many communities, living a physically active lifestyle can be a challenge. The ways in which communities are designed and built can present challenges. When everyday destinations are far from home, walking, bicycling or other forms of active transportation may not be an available or convenient option. Safety concerns, such as lack of access to sidewalks, bike lanes, and traffic control measures, can also be barriers to being active. Lack of access to parks, public pools and green space, which tends to be higher in poor and under-served communities, also contributes to lower rates of physical activity.
“There is much being done but much more that needs to be done to reduce physical inactivity and help people of all ages and health conditions live more physically active lives. All sectors can work together to:
- Support safe, efficient, and pedestrian-friendly public transit systems and transit-oriented development, and to create and improve walking trails and parks.
- Open and promote places in communities for individuals to be active such as schools, parks, and malls.
- Provide evidence-based community programs that help adults, including those with chronic conditions like cancer, start and continue to be active.
- Work with health professionals to link their patients to community programs and resources for physical activity.
“And as individuals, there is much we can do, too. Commit to be more active yourself, on a daily basis. Encourage and support your family members, friends and co-workers to do the same. Speak up; participate in local planning efforts that support safe and convenient places to be active. Working collectively, we can help create healthier environments to support all of us in living a more physically active life.”