The Invisible Danger of Doing Nothing
So the first hard frosts arrived here this week and so did the snow on the high Lake District fells. For many the onset of such winter conditions means curtailing their outdoor activities. In fact I can almost hear the rust beginning to crystallise in our bike shed. But there are good reasons to try and keep going. For while hibernation may sound attractive, inactivity is invisibly dangerous.
A national prescription to walk and cycle
The good people at NICE (The UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence) this week announced some new recommendations for government to consider; that walking and cycling should become the norm for short journeys (DOH!), to help combat the crisis in national health arising from inactivity and obesity. Imagine that; a national prescription for more walking and cycling! The cure for a sedentary lifetyle. I love it!
According to the 126 page NICE report, almost two thirds of men and nearly three quarters of women in the UK are not sufficiently active to maintain their health. And the results aren’t much better for children.
According to report lead author Dr Harry Rutter: “This creates a huge and often invisible burden of illness and reduced quality of life, but most people seem unaware of the scale of that burden…. Across the population, lack of physical activity causes roughly the same level of ill-health as smoking does.”
A sedentary lifestyle is as bad for you as smoking
Isn’t that shocking? The majority of us aren’t active enough to maintain our health, we’re unaware of it and don’t realise our inactivity is like smoking 20 a day. (I made that figure up). Still, an invisible national disease, as bad for you as smoking? What’s more many see the prescription (you know walking or cycling more) as either inconvenient or dangerous. A dangerous cure? What’s that about?
According to Dr Rutter, some things appear obviously dangerous while others that may look safe conceal a hidden danger. “All activities carry a risk. For some reason there seems to be a strong focus on the risk of injury associated with cycling.”
The publicity given to cycling accidents doesn’t help. Just look at the column inches published when cycling superstar Bradley Wiggins and cycling coach Shane Sutton were injured in traffic accidents recently. This shapes public perceptions of risk but it isn’t the whole story. It’s the invisibility of the cause and the creeping effects of the ‘dis-ease’ which is the killer.
As Rutter points out “What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent and it doesn’t get noticed.”
On a downward spiral?
The activity trends aren’t good. According to the report 85% of adults can ride a bicycle but usage is falling with the average time spent travelling by bike down to 11 minutes per day and annual average mileage down to 39 miles per person per year. And the average distance walked per person per year is falling too, down to 201 miles. The bald fact is MOST OF US DON’T DO ENOUGH! We live a far too sedentary lifestyle for our own good. And I include myself in that.
Sitting at home by the fire, playing on the iPad, reading and watching TV; they all seem pretty harmless. But perhaps that’s because we don’t think about the real dangers of sitting still or doing nothing, of slowly and imperceptibly growing obese, of invisible muscle atrophy, reducing cardiovascular fitness.
The solution is at the front door
While NICE are busy urging government, local authorities, health bodies, workplaces and schools to do more to encourage activity, there’s no guidance for parents. Yet this really starts at home, with the example we set ourselves and the habits we encourage in our kids. The answer is at the front door where we keep our coats and shoes. Or in the shed with the bikes and helmets. We just need to get out more.
So, despite the frosts, I’m going to make a point to do just that. To walk more and keep cycling this winter. Why? Well partly because I felt inspired after watching this video about a campaign to #keepcycling in winter. (Sad how easily influenced I am.) But mostly because it’s good for me.
We managed it last year, even rode the C2C in February, although getting out did take a few bribes from time to time. If you need incentives and like hot chocolate then you might be interested to know that Divine Chocolate have teamed up with the #keepcycling campaign to give away some yummy rewards. What do you have to do? Well, get out, get active and snap and share a picture of yourself doing it as evidence. If you do win though, remember to check your calorific expenditure exceeds your chocolate intake!
Do you recognise the invisible danger? Do you keep up your activity in winter? Do share…