Lazy living costs '$1 billion a year'

MICHAEL FORBES AND KERRY MCBRIDE
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013
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ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

GETTING SOME FRESH AIR: A free exercise class is held at Frank Kitts Park.

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Laziness has become a "pandemic", with new research suggesting couch potatoes are costing New Zealand more than $1 billion a year.

An independent report by Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council and Greater Wellington regional council shows sedentary lifestyles were a burden on the nation to the tune of $1.3b in 2010.

Wellington bore $141 million of that, while Auckland spent $402m and Waikato $106m.

"Physical inactivity is at a serious pandemic level in New Zealand," the report says. "It is increasingly common that many adults do not do enough physical activity to maintain good health."

That did not surprise Sport NZ general manager of community sport and recreation Geoff Barry, who said there had been a "culture shift" among young people from structured sports to mucking around.

"It's one thing them doing stuff, but it's important to assess the quality of it and how they hold on to it for a long period of time.

"You'll see kids down at the wharf doing all sorts of things. It's still activity, but less formalised. In my time, it was more about rugby, cricket and netball."

The report found about half the financial burden of physical inactivity was direct costs, such as health expenditure, treating disease and health promotion. The other half was indirect costs, such as lost productivity, living with disability or disease, and premature death.

Other costs, such as promoting activity and physical well-being campaigns, were also factored into the research.

Strokes attributable to physical activity had the highest direct cost of all diseases across all the regions, while coronary heart disease had the highest indirect costs.

Not doing anything is also killing us. In 2009 it was linked to the premature death of 246 people aged under 65.

Last year, The Lancet medical journal ranked New Zealand 27th on its list of the 122 most inactive countries in the world. Almost 50 per cent of the population were insufficiently active.

Wellington GP Chris Kalderimis said he had observed a change over the past 15 years as children were faced with more enticing indoor activities.

"It's with the advent of more computer games, parents not being happy for children to walk to school, and generally more indoors activities.

"If you are raised with a love of exercise, it's much easier to carry it through than have to initiate it when you're in your 20s."

The report also says physical inactivity issues should feature in policy decisions at all levels of government.

Councils should provide residents with improved ways to stay active through smart urban and transport planning, recreational facilities and cycleways or walkways.

Limiting car access and parking, or increasing the cost of using private transport, could also encourage more walking or cycling, the report says.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett both called on the regional council to make acting on the report a priority.

"We've got to see some actions and results, otherwise all we'll have is a nice-looking report sitting on a shelf somewhere," Ms Wade-Brown said.

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Regular physical activity is beneficial for exercising the heart, maintaining healthy bones and a healthy mind, the report says.

Failure to do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week, increases the chance of developing cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression. Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.

ACTIVE 'HEALTHY BODY' MAKES FOR HAPPY WORKERS

Walter Walraven hasn't taken a sick day since 1997.

At 56, he reckons that is a pretty good track record - and one he attributes to staying active when not chained to his graphic-design desk.

"Up until about five months ago, I was doing a lot of running and swimming but I had to pull back on that and focus on my business," he said.

"I felt lethargic when I wasn't exercising . . . If you're not feeling good physically, then you can't be bothered thinking properly."

Mr Walraven was one of about 150 people who took up the offer of a free half-hour workout in Wellington's Frank Kitts Park during their lunch-hour yesterday.

When The Dominion Post told him how much physical inactivity was said to be costing the nation, he could not quite believe it.

But Mish McCormack, managing director of Mishfitness, which offers the free workouts, did not find the numbers surprising at all.

Companies did a poor job of realising the benefits of health and wellbeing among their staff, she said.

"People are just lazy, they don't want it bad enough . . . They get into a bad rut and don't realise something is wrong until they have a health scare. Well, unfortunately, by the time you've had triple-bypass heart surgery it's too late."

She agreed "100 per cent" that central and local government should be doing more to legislate against the negative impact of physical inactivity.

She had sought financial support from Wellington City Council in the past for her free fitness classes in Frank Kitts Park, but had been turned down.

"And if you're not having any luck with the local council, then there's not much chance of getting something out of the Beehive."

- The Dominion Post

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