17th May 2017 – Lazing around on a summer holiday increases the risk of a range of health problems, UK researchers are warning.
Results of a small study led by the University of Liverpool show that just 2 weeks of inactivity for young, healthy people can lead to muscle wastage and bring about changes to the body's metabolism that can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and potentially lead to an early death.
Our modern, sedentary lifestyle has repeatedly been linked to poor health.
Some previous research has focused on whether we can improve our health by incorporating physical activity into our daily lives, rather than relying on a structured exercise programme. However, little attention has been paid to what happens when we swap our daily regime for the sun lounger.
To find out more, the researchers studied what happened to 28 healthy individuals with an average age of 25. All the volunteers were physically active, taking an average of 10,000 steps each day, and had an average body mass index (BMI) of 25, which put them just inside the 'above ideal' weight range.
All of the individuals wore an armband to measure their activity levels. They also underwent health checks to measure fat and muscle mass, to assess their body's efficiency at providing energy and recovering from exercise, as well as their physical fitness.
These checks were done at the start of the study and then again after a 14-day exercise regime which gradually reduced their activity by more than 80%. By the end of the 2 weeks, the volunteers were only taking around 1,500 steps each day.
Throughout this period, they ate the same amount of food, and this was checked with food diaries.
The researchers found that curbing the number of steps taken reduced moderate-to-vigorous activity from a daily average of 161 minutes to 36 minutes. This coincided with an increase in daily sedentary time by 2 hours and 9 minutes.
The change of regime brought about various physical changes. These included a loss of bone mass and increases in body fat. The extra fat tended to settle around the midriff, which is a known risk factor for a range of diseases.
Overall, cardio-respiratory fitness levels declined sharply and when the participants were asked to run, they became puffed out earlier than before the trial began.
The findings have been presented at the European Congress on Obesity, taking place this week in Porto, Portugal. The results should be treated with caution as they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr Emily Burns, research communications manager at Diabetes UK, which helped fund the study, comments in an emailed statement: "We know that being physically inactive can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. While we need to wait for the full results, this research suggests that changes inside the body could start after only 2 weeks of inactivity.
"It’s very important that we understand what happens when we cut out simple daily activities, so we can find the best ways to reduce the risk of type 2 [diabetes] for everyone. We can all find ways to include physical activity in our daily life – even walking to work or using stairs."
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