Let's get physical

Readers should know instinctively that leaping over the Huka Falls might be the last thing they do. They should know too (thanks to wads of research) that smoking cigarettes is bad for their health.

An Invercargill coroner this week added to a growing list of modern-day health concerns by finding that drinking too much Coca-Cola helped kill a mother of eight. "Too much" of the fizzy drink in this case meant an extraordinary consumption of up to 10 litres a day, reportedly equal to more than twice the recommended safe daily limit of caffeine and almost one kilogram of sugar.

It should be obvious that drinking that much Coke each day will raise health issues. But knowing the dangers won't necessarily wean people off bad habits.

A study published in The Lancet last year affirmed that physical inactivity may be as hazardous to your health as smoking. It blights the lives of couch potatoes by increasing the risk (among others) of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. New Zealanders have not been unaware of those risks, yet the Ministry of Health website says only 52 per cent of us meet the minimum recommended level of physical activity.

The Waikato Regional Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Auckland Council have released a study examining the full costs of physical inactivity in their regions. They learned it cost $106 million in Waikato in 2010, $140m in Wellington, and $402m in Auckland. The cost for the country was around $1.3 billion, (0.7 per cent of GDP). Perturbingly, Waikato had the lowest proportion of the population meeting recommended physical activity guidelines and the highest proportion at risk because of insufficient physical activity.

The Lancet study published last year estimated that as many as 5.3m deaths around the world were caused by physical inactivity in 2008, compared with an estimated 5m caused by cigarette smoking worldwide each year. The World Health Organisation challenged the figures, saying it estimated inactivity caused about 3.2m deaths around the world each year. The WHO nevertheless ranked it the fourth biggest health issue after high blood pressure, tobacco use and high cholesterol. If you are sitting down to read this, accordingly, we advise you now to stand up and get physical.