Most people probably know that exercise is important to improve health, and research continues to support this idea. Recently, research from the University of Missouri School of Medicine showed that reducing daily physical exercise, even for a few days, led to a decrease in the function of blood vessels. This decrease in function, found in the legs of otherwise healthy subjects caused vascular dysfunction that could have prolonged effects.
The researchers, Paul Fadel and John Thyfualt, professors at the University, found that the vascular dysfunction caused by inactivity required more than one day of physical activity, which included at least 10,000 steps taken each day to return function to normal.
Fadel claims that negative consequences of inactivity are reversible. He says that there is plenty of data to support that, at any stage of life, one can get active and prolong their life. However, missing only five days of physical activity can cause damage to blood vessels in the legs that can take a long period of time to fix.
Fadel went on to say that inactivity is probably going to lead to people being overweight and obese. Obesity that can lead to insulin resistance, which in trun leads to Type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 29 million Americans are currently living with diabetes. That number is expected to continue to rise, and the CDC believes that one third of people born after 2000 will have diabetes. Fadel says that best treatment is simply to be more active; they claim that their research supports this, by showing that inactivity directly correlates to these issues.
The researchers studied the early effects on the body’s blood vessels when someone transitions from high daily physical activity, defined as 10,000 or more steps per day, to low daily physical activity, less than 5,000 steps per day. The national average is 5,000 steps per day, but even this only half of what is recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General.
“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 the past few years, Thyfault and Fadel studied inactivity and glycemic control, in addition to the research already mentioned, on inactivity and blood vessel function. In previous studies, blood vessel function decrease was shown to be linked to early cardiovascular death, and hypertension. This decrease can happen after only five days of inactivity, according to their recent work, which makes regular exercise extremely important.
Counting steps and daily overall physical activity is different than defined exercise, such as resistance training in a gym. Thyfault and Fadel’s research is based on what amounts to 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, from walking or moving overall, rather than defined exercise, although there are still plenty of benefits to defined exercise.
“We need to teach and explain to people about the physiology of their bodies and the physiology of the disease process and help them understand that inactivity plays a foundational role in the disease process,” said Thyfault. “Then we give them behavioral tools, like pedometers, to monitor and help them achieve higher physical activity so they start to see and feel health improvements. These studies are proof we need to get people to understand their activity every day plays a role in their health, and that their health is not simply a matter of body weight and how they look in the mirror.”