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The world’s most inactive countries: Canada ranks mid-range

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
July 18, 2012

A series of studies published this week in the Lancet have ranked the world's most inactive countries, and Canada falls 64 out of 120 on the list.

We fare significantly better than the United Kingdom which falls 6th on the list and slightly better than the United States which falls 47th on the list.

Thirty- four per cent of our population, 15 years and older, is considered inactive, compared with 63.3 per cent in the United Kingdom, and 41 per cent in the United States.

The most inactive country in the world? Malta with a whopping 71.9 per cent.

The Guardian has broken down the figures into a handy chart here.

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The results also found that nearly one third of the world's population is inactive, resulting in one in 10 deaths — almost as many deaths caused by smoking.

Researchers are calling the findings a global pandemic, especially troubled because inactivity leads to serious heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer.

Men tend to be more active than women, and affluent countries tend to be more inactive than less developed nations. A person is considered inactive when they don't meet the requirements of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week and/or 20 minutes of vigorous activity, three times per week.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa and the medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, says Americans and Britons are no lazier now than they were in the 1980s. Though interesting, he doesn't think the studies, in and of themselves, will bring about much behavioural change.

"Find me a person on the planet who doesn't know that exercise is good for them and inactivity is bad and I'll give you a dollar," he says."Education is not going to move people more."

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Freedhof says we have to make moving easier by erecting signs near escalators and elevators that direct towards stairwells, by improving biking infrastructure, by creating zoning laws for new developments to include mandatory walking paths, by building more exciting play structures for children and by subsidizing the cost of municipal recreation centres.

"These might have an impact," he says. "And there are certainly no shortage of possible targets. We're not going to change human nature, but through smart, nudge-style environmental re-engineering, we just might be able to take advantage of it."

In fact, the reports published in the Lancet advocate walking and/or cycling to work as part of a daily commute, when it is a safe option.

"If all non-cyclists in Denmark became cyclists, about 12,000 deaths linked to little physical activity would be prevented every year as a result of cycling activity; there, only 30 cyclists are killed in traffic accidents annually," the researchers write.

"The global challenge is to help to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, and city environments, so that active transportation becomes not only a healthy alternative, but also a safe one," says the report.

In Canada, 6.6 per cent of the population says they walk to work and 1.0-1.2 per cent of the population commute by bicycle.

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