Physical Inactivity: is it a disease?

Bailey Brooker

Physical inactivity has been on the rise in recent decades. Should it now be considered a disease?

Dr. Michael Joyner is a professor of anesthesiology and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Along with teaching, Joyner studies physical activity and the impact it can have on an individual’s health. He has also been a consultant with the National Institute of Health as well as NASA since 1993.

More than 300 people of all ages gathered in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union on March 5 to listen to Joyner’s lecture. The lecture was hosted by the Kinesiology Department along with the Pease Family Scholarship foundation.

“There is no right or wrong answer to if inactivity is a disease or not,” Joyner said.

According to Joyner, disease is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems or death. He suggested that inactivity can fit this description.

“Disease affects people not only physically, but also emotionally,” he said.

People were made to be active. Think back to hunters and gatherers or muscled power farming when it was not only natural to be that active, it was a requirement to sustain life.

“Physical activity has decreased by 35 percent since 1960,” Joyner explained. “Because of this, the United States is one of the most obese countries in the world.

“We are like the XXL compared to many other countries,” Joyner jokes.

This “disease” is relatively contagious. Not contagious like the flu virus is contagious, but the more you are exposed to inactivity the more likely you are to fall into the trap. Who you are around impacts your way of life and if your best friend is obese and inactive, your odds of being obese and inactive increase drastically.

Different people have different ideas on how to stop this negative trend. Joyner suggests that legislation should pass laws directing consumption of healthier foods and restricting access to fatty, processed foods.

“They have enforced seat belt laws for our safety, why can’t they make laws about eating healthy?” Joyner asked. “Raise some awareness, think more deeply and ask some questions about inactivity.”