Move and improve your health!

By Michele S. Byers

An epidemic is sweeping across the globe and it’s causing a myriad of health problems, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, falls and poor mental health.

The epidemic is physical inactivity … in other words, a sedentary lifestyle. A new study by the World Health Organization found that 28 percent of adults globally, some 1.4 billion people, are at risk from lack of exercise.

Thankfully, this epidemic is not contagious and it’s curable. All it takes is movement. And that’s exactly what the World Health Organization is promoting through its “Let’s Be Active” campaign.

The World Health Organization recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or any combination of the two, every week. Health benefits include a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and breast and colon cancers – plus better mental health and delayed onset of dementia.

The report uses data from nearly two million people from 168 countries, representing 96 percent of the global population. Worldwide, nearly one in four adults show unhealthy levels of inactivity. In some places, as many as one in three adults are inactive.

Not surprisingly, the study found the highest levels of inactivity in wealthier counties where sedentary occupations are common and most people drive or take public transportation to work. The report also identified a gender gap: women are 8 percent less active than men.

According to the study, national policies are needed to encourage non-motorized transportation like walking and cycling, and to promote widespread participation in active recreation and sports.

The World Health Organization has launched a global action plan to reduce physical inactivity by 10 percent by 2025, and 15 percent by 2030.

The plan includes broad policy recommendations, including better urban planning to create “active environments.” These places would have more access to public open space, better walking and bicycle trail networks, integrated planning for development and transportation systems, and policies that promote an active lifestyle.

If you are among the one in four adults who are not physically active, here’s what you can do:

• Bicycle to work if possible.

• If you drive to work, park your car as far as possible from your office … even when there’s an empty parking spot right next to the door.

• If you take public transportation, get off one stop early.

• Walk at lunchtime, and consider “walking meetings” with colleagues.

• Whenever possible, take the stairs.

• Take exercise classes or use facilities provided by your employer or your health care insurance.

• Get to know public parks and nature preserves near you. A walk on an outdoor trail -surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of nature – is far more effective for boosting mental health than walking the same distance indoors.

• Check out programs like Walk with a Doc, in which physicians lead fitness walks and answer participants’ medical questions. To learn more, go to

• Pick a sport or activity you have never tried before and look for a beginner class. You might just discover a new passion. It’s a great feeling when you are having so much fun that you forget you are exercising.

• Invite other people to join you when you exercise.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at


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