According to WHO, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death, behind high blood pressure, tobacco use and high blood sugar.

WHAT ARE THE DISEASES ASSOCIATED WITH PHYSICAL INACTIVITY IN MALAYSIA?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in Malaysia. It is estimated that deaths due to heart disease is 27.7 per cent in this country, up from 16.9 per cent in 2008.

Prevalence of risk factors for heart disease has also increased in the last 15 years.

Based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey, the prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and obesity is growing.

Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, hypercholesterolemia and heart disease are directly associated with physical inactivity.

Physical inactivity is associated with 25 other chronic diseases.

Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing heart disease, dementia, some cancers and diabetes by more than 30 per cent.


Table 1

WHAT IS THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PHYSICAL INACTIVITY PROBLEM IN MALAYSIA?

According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death, behind high blood pressure, tobacco use and high blood sugar.

A study published in the Lancet (2012) showed that physical inactivity caused 6-10 per cent of all deaths from major non-communicable diseases. It caused nine per cent of premature mortality worldwide. That is about 5.3 million deaths in 2008.

Prevalence of physical inactivity worldwide was at 31.1 per cent in 2012. It changed to 23.3 per cent in 2016.

The reduction of prevalence was due to a change in algorithm to estimate physical inactivity. It does not reflect real increase in physical activity.

As for the health effects of physical inactivity, a research paper in the Lancet (2012) has described it as pandemic with health, economic and social consequences.

In a study reported in British Medical Journal in 2009 titled Physical Inactivity; The biggest Public Health Problem Of The 21st Century, the author showed that being physically inactive accounts for 16 per cent of deaths, higher then hypertension, smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.

The study also showed that being physically active reduces the risk of getting cardiovascular disease, even if the person is obese.

Malaysia has the highest overweight and obesity rate in Southeast Asia. Almost 40 per cent of the Malaysian population is overweight or obese. The National Health and Morbidity survey showed an increase in obesity rate in the last 18 years.

It was 4.4 per cent in 1996 and has increased to 15.1 per cent in 2011.

In 2012, based on data presented in the Lancet, Malaysia was among top 10 “laziest” countries in the world, with prevalence of physical inactivity at 61.4 per cent.

HOW DO WE COMPARE PHYSICAL INACTIVITY WITH OTHER RISK FACTORS FOR NON-COMMUNICABLE DISEASES LIKE SMOKING, OBESITY AND HIGH BLOOD SUGAR?

Based on a report by WHO in 2009, deaths due to physical inactivity is higher than obesity and high cholesterol. The prevalence is the highest after overweight and obesity (data for year 2004).


Table 2

If we are able to eliminate physical inactivity, life expectancy will increase by 0.68 years. Elimination of smoking and obesity will increase life expectancy 1.1-2.5 and 0.7-1.1 years respectively.

Physical activity is able to increase life expectancy, comparable to quitting smoking and losing weight.

With the high prevalence of physical inactivity (causing 3.2 million deaths), physical inactivity is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases.

Any effort to reduce the risk will have a significant outcome to the world population.


Physical activity increases life expectancy, comparable to quitting smoking and losing weight.

An avid sportsman who believes in the healing powers of exercise, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ahmad Taufik Jamil is Universiti Teknologi Mara’s public health consultant and exercise physician. Reach him at jamil@gmail.com.

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