Your Health

How inactivity affects your health

There are 40-plus health conditions that are caused or exacerbated by inactivity, many of which can be reversed through exercise, says Dr. Dean Kriellaars, an exercise physiologist at the University of Manitoba's School of Medicial Rehabilitation. They include:


People develop healthy bones through eating and exercise. Without exercise, the ability to develop and maintain good bones is eliminated. Twenty-five per cent of bone mass occurs during the growth spurt in youth. So if kids are inactive during their growth spurt, they're not developing bones.

"The number of kids under puberty, 11 and under, who meet the activity guidelines is 48 per cent for boys, and 34 per cent for girls. This mismatch should not happen at this age," says Kriellaars. "What happens after that is scary: activity rates after puberty drops to under 10 per cent. Then it drops to three per cent of adults getting the right amount of activity. That's really scary when you think about the consequences to your skeleton."


In the long run, osteoarthritis leads to people having hip and knee replacements. People who are morbidly obese put stress loads on their joints, especially their knees. If you are morbidly obese, you're 13.6 times more likely to have osteoarthritis, says Kriellaars.

"Around 3,756 total knee and hip replacements are done in Manitoba every year, paid for by our health-care dollars. If you use the 13.6 times odds ratio, you're banking on around half of those being preventable, so around 1,500 surgeries alone are due to too much weight. If people exercised and didn't get this condition, that would be half the health-care costs, and half the personal suffering," he says.

Sleep apnea

If you are obese, the likelihood of snoring and stopping breathing is highly related. "If you have sleep apnea, you don't sleep well, lack focus and are sleepy during the day," says Kriellaars. "That affects your performance at work, with your family."


Kriellaars named three types of cancer where the likelihood of dying from them is reduced by 30 to 50 per cent thanks to exercise: breast, colon and endometrial cancer. "Think of the horrific personal tragedies that can be avoided here," he says, adding that exercise doesn't prevent these cancers from occurring, but reduces the chance of dying from them.


"Exercise is equal to or greater than any medication for the treatment of depression," he says.


2008 was the first time in history that life expectancy in Canada reversed, according to Statistics Canada and the World Bank. From 1961 to 2008, there was a linear increase in life expectancy, from a male living an average of 72 years in 1961 to living an average of 82 years in 2008. After that, there has been a downturn to 80.96 years, according to the World Bank. "Inactivity and overconsumption of food have outstripped our health care system's ability to deal with health problems. That's how I read it," says Kriellaars.

Type 2 diabetes

Although there is a genetic connection in Manitoba between Aboriginal people and Type 2 diabetes, the majority of people getting this condition are inactive and obese. People don't die from Type 2 diabetes, but rather from its complications, going blind and suffering amputations and other health problems along the way, he says. "It's almost completely reversible through exercise and eating a well-balanced diet, and for most cases, it's certainly preventable."

Aerobic fitness

The average Canadian's VO2 Max level - the rate at which their body can move and use oxygen during exercise - is 34 millilitres of oxygen per minute per kilogram of body weight. The name is derived from V for volume, O2 for oxygen, max for maximum. The fittest person in the world is able to move 90 mL per minute per kilogram, while a cardiac patient's rate is around 15 mL.

"It's been shown that 50 per cent of Canadians can't even do the test for this," says Kriellaars. The test involves measuring oxygen flow to the lungs while increasing the intensity of exercise on a treadmill or cycle. "Lungs, heart, muscles, receive oxygen better when they're fit."

Wave: May / June 2013

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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