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What is Physical Inactivity?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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Physical inactivity is a lack of regular exercise. While a person may feel physically active if he or she is busy with work, family or running errands, this may not be the case unless those activities include consistent cardiovascular exercise. Coronary artery disease, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are serious health conditions linked to physical inactivity.

As a rough guideline, most people require at least a half hour to an hour of cardiovascular exercise about five days per week in order to maintain good health. Cardiovascular exercise gets the body moving to increase the heart rate and give it oxygen while burning calories taken in from food. Cycling, running and swimming are examples of some popular cardiovascular activities. Cardiovascular exercise can be done at home, in a gym or at a community recreation center depending on the particular activity. Moving from physical inactivity to cardiovascular exercise can be as simple as running up and down stairs or dancing to the radio.

Physical activity is needed to burn calories taken in from food. Weight gain results if the energy from calories taken in exceeds that of calorie-burning physical activities. Being overweight usually results in even more physical inactivity, as being heavier makes it more difficult to exercise regularly due to feeling tired and being out of breath even with minimum exertion. If inactivity and excess calorie intake continue, obesity, which is very high, unhealthy body weight, is likely.

Sedentary is another word for physical inactivity. If a person has a sedentary lifestyle, he or she is at risk for many health problems including diabetes and coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries that deliver blood to the heart are blocked by fatty buildup due to inactivity and poor diet. Rather than find excuses to continue a sedentary lifestyle, everyone should engage in some form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Finding enjoyable activities can make it much easier to stop the habit of physical inactivity. If team sports, swimming, cycling and other pursuits aren't appealing, walking at a brisk pace daily or almost every day is an option that many people can do and that most doctors recommend. Walking at a fairly fast pace should be done for a short distance at first. The distance can then be gradually increased to offer challenge to the workout and increase health.

If the weather is poor, the walker should replace his or her outdoor walking activity with an indoor exercise routine rather than skipping a workout. Indoor physical activities include riding a stationery bicycle, exercising along with a fitness video or just moving and dancing to the radio. With a "no excuses" attitude, the unhealthy habit of physical inactivity can be replaced with regular cardiovascular activities.

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