Importance of Physical Activity in Everyday Life

Summary
Over the past two to three decades, Canadians have shown trends towards lower energy consumption and higher “leisure-time physical activity.” Paradoxically, the percentage of population that is clinically obese or overweight has risen during these years. Researchers aimed to track the changes in the physical activities that people engaged in, whether for entertainment, travel to work or occupational from 1994 to 2005; results showed that during this time males as well as females were more active during leisure and travel but less active during their work hours. “Declining levels of physical activity at work may help explain the rising prevalence of overweight and obese people in Canada.”

Introduction
Trends show that prevalence of overweight and obese people (combined) among Canadian adults rose from 49.2 to 59.1 percent between 1978 and 2004. At the same time, Canadians were more active during leisure-time physical activity like sports, etc. and consumed less energy. It is known that for weight to rise above normal, a person must eat more and exercise less. Researchers speculated that the falling levels of exercise during transportation or at work and the corresponding decrease in outflow of energy may explain the growing rates of obesity and overweight people in Canada.

Methodology
•    Six national-level health surveys involving 17,626 individuals in 1994 to 132,221 individuals in 2005 were carried out.
•    The participants were given questionnaires to assess their level of activity during “leisure-time,” “transport-related” and “work-related” activities.
•    For example, choice of activity or sport and amount of time spent during leisure was noted, as was mode of travel to work and distance walked to work or school. For work-related activity, answers from the interview related to time spent sitting, lifting loads, climbing stairs, standing and walking during work hours over the last three months.
•    Based on the reported activities, energy expenditure of each individual at three different activity slots was calculated and the person was termed active or inactive.

Results
•    Results showed, “There was a significant downward trend for inactivity during leisure time and transports for men and women. Conversely, there was a significant upward trend for inactivity at work for men and women.”
•    Men became more active during leisure (by 9.94 percent) and travel to work or other places (by 15.31 percent) over the study period. However, they became more inactive during work or office hours (by 5.18 percent)
•    Similarly, women became more active during leisure (by 13.17 percent) and travel to work or other places (by 9.99 percent) but became more inactive during work or office hours (by 4.18 percent).

Shortcomings
One of the main shortcomings of the study was its reliance on self-reports of physical activity involvement and researchers believe that such self-reports might overestimate the physical activity during leisure. Also, measurement of activity during travel and occupational activity was based on one question and this may not be exactly representative of what really happens.

Conclusions
This study has shown a significant decline in physical activity during work or office hours. With concerns regarding rising obesity and weight-related problems, it is an important insight into the dynamics of physical activity during everyday life. Over the past decade more people have become aware of the benefits of exercise and physical activity. Likewise, trends show that they spend more time exercising or playing activity games or prefer walking to work to burn energy. They are also consuming less energy-rich food to stay in shape. However, from this study authors conclude, “Since most Canadians spend the majority of weekdays at work, declining levels of physical activity at work may help explain the rising prevalence of overweight and obese people in Canada.”

For More Information:
Trends in Leisure-, Transport-, and Work-Related Physical Activity in Canada 1994–2005
Publication Journal: Preventive Medicine, September 2010
By Carl-Etienne Juneau, Louise Potvin; Université de Montréal, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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