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Jan. 29, 2015 Volume 36, No. 17

Even a few days of inactivity can have health consequences, researchers say

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Five days of inactivity, defined as failing to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day, can create health problems that could become chronic if the sedentary lifestyle continues, a University of Missouri study published last semester reveals.

The good news is that a fit person can reverse the days-long exercise hiatus and return to a state of health equilibrium quickly, but not in 24 hours.

Paul Fadel, associate professor of medical pharmacology and physiology, and John Thyfault, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, found that, for someone who exercises regularly, five days of inactivity requires more than one day of returning to moderate exercise. The activity could be a half-hour of brisk walking.

The study first appeared in the online journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, which calculates to 7,000 to 8,000 steps each day. Most people already take 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day, and a brisk 10-minute walk is about 1,000 steps. So a 30-minute daily walk can align most people with CDC’s recommendation.

Participants in the MU study normally averaged 10,000 steps, which is considered highly active. They reduced their steps to less than 5,000 per day.

Researchers discovered that going from high to low levels of daily physical activity for just five days decreases the function of the inner lining of the blood vessels in the legs. “The impairment we saw in just five days was quite striking,” Fadel said. “It shows just how susceptible the vascular system is to physical inactivity.”

For several years, Fadel and Thyfault have studied inactivity and glycemic control as well as how inactivity affects blood flow and vascular function through the body. A decrease in blood vessel function has been shown in previous studies to be linked to early cardiovascular death and hypertension. This research shows that even an acute period of inactivity of five days changes the measure that is already known to be important for long-term cardiovascular health.

As part of the 2015 health benefit options, the University of Missouri System’s Healthy for Life wellness program offered a $450 incentive to eligible employees in the form of a two-tiered program. It was designed to encourage employees to live healthful lives. Part of the program involves employees wearing a pedometer to tally the number of steps they take each day.