Inactivity directly linked to higher disease risk, MU researchers say

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | 7:06 p.m. CST; updated 7:41 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 6, 2012

COLUMBIA — Regardless of their weight or diet, couch potatoes have a higher risk of chronic disease, a recent MU study found.

The study tested blood sugar change on 12 physically active and healthy volunteers with an average age of 30, said John Thyfault, an associate professor in MU's Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology who conducted the research with his graduate students.

The results show the volunteers' transition from high activity t0 low activity directly affects their ability to control blood glucose levels, Thyfault said.

"Bigger swings in glucose after meals is linked to greater risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes," he said. 

Thyfault said that most people of normal weight will end up becoming overweight if they stay inactive.

"My hypothesis is that you always need to be active no matter what your body weight is," he said.

The study was published February in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Excercise, a peer reviewed journal.

It's much harder to keep an active lifestyle today because sedentary jobs are about three times more common than physically active jobs, while 50 years ago, the rate was reversed, according to the American Heart Association. 

In 2011, almost 66 percent of Missourians were either obese or overweight — an 8.5 percent rise over a decade ago, according to an obesity report issued by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Exercising keeps me in shape. It also helps me better focus on my school work," said Josef Stark, a chemical engineering student who spends about 2 1/2 hours a day, six days a week, at the MU Student Recreation Complex. "Working out releases my stress a lot."

Mary Wilkerson, who has a sedentary job as a senior vice president for marketing at the Boone County National Bank, walks for 30 minutes every morning.

"It calms me and gives me more self-control and a better mood," Wilkerson said. "Walking is so important to me because otherwise I don't have much opportunity to do activities."

The American Diabetes Association's guideline for adults is to have a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day. The goal for children and teens is one hour.

Another general recommendation for physical activities is to take 10,000 steps per day, Thyfault said.

A 2010 study done by American College of Sports Medicine found that on average Americans adults take 5,117 steps per day.

"The easiest way to measure your activities is to use a pedometer," he said.          

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