Sedentary lifestyles pose many health risks in children and adults, and South Africa has one of the highest rates of inactivity in the world.
This is according to data compiled by The Economist, using information from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Journal of Public Health.
According to the publication, a lack of physical activity has crept up the list of global causes of death to fourth place, after high blood pressure, smoking and high blood sugar.
Around half (47%) of all South African adults live sedentary lifestyles – more than double the global average of 23% – making it one of the most inactive countries in the world, below Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia.
Sedentary behaviour refers to extended periods of physical inactivity – such as sitting at a work desk all day – and has been compared to smoking in terms of the negative impact it has on one’s health.
A report published in 2014 found that prolonged time spent in sedentary states is associated with increased risks of certain types of cancer, as well as with an increase in rates of obesity and diabetes.
The World Health Organisation recommends that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) – while adolescents should engage in at least an hour of this activity a day.
A study conducted in the UK, tracking 300,000 Europeans over 12 years, found that a brisk daily 20-minute walk, or the equivalent, cut the annual death rate for people of normal weight by a quarter, and for the obese by 16%, The Economist reported.
Businesses, too, have taken note of the growing impact of inactivity, and many companies have jumped onto trends, such as standing desks, to try and counter the effect of long hours of sitting down.
Not the only problem
While sedentary lifestyles are a large contributing factor to general unhealthiness, the situation is exacerbated by a number of other factors, including food habits.
According to the South African department of health, sedentary lifestyles have lead to people in South Africa burning fewer kilojoules than what they consume. This has lead to an “alarming health hazard” in the country.
Research has shown that one in every four South Africans is obese, and that two thirds of the population are overweight.
The department recently lauded local retail group, Woolworths, for taking the decision to remove sweets and candies from its check-out aisles, in a bid to promote healthier eating.
The retailer has also reduced the sugar and salt content in its store-branded foods, the department said.
As part of its movements towards advocating healthier living, in 2016, the department is expected to introduce laws to limit and regulate the amount of salt that can be put into food products in the country.