Inactivity Linked to 5.3 Million Deaths Worldwide
Not getting enough exercise may be as deadly as smoking. That's according to a series of studies published this week in the Lancet, which suggest that up to 5.3 million deaths worldwide were caused by physical inactivity in 2008. In comparison, smoking causes about 5 million deaths each year. Being physically active helps control blood pressure and blood sugar, lowers bad cholesterol, and increases good cholesterol. It protects against heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. The new research suggests that if the level of physical inactivity in the world decreased by 10 percent, it could reduce the number of premature deaths by 533,000 annually. Now is "a good time to remind ourselves that we were meant to be physically active," study author I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told USA Today. "It's good for our health. We may not be Olympians, but almost all of us can walk 15 to 30 minutes a day which would improve health."
Try These Out-of-the-Box Fitness Classes
Push-ups and squats in an airless, unforgivingly bright room? Huffing and puffing and sweating next to 25 strangers? The fitness classes of yesterday, maybe. But those are practically archaic by now. Hello, slithering, gravity-defying routines, party music, and flashing lights. Some classes are hybrids of old and new exercises; others are high-intensity variations on the norm. All will boost your fitness. U.S. News highlights some of the most out-of-the-box options:
1. Aerial dance. Always envied Cirque du Soleil performers? Stop at Heliummm Aerial Dance and Entertainment in New York. You'll learn the tricks of aerial dance, while giving your arms and abs a workout. The bulk of your time will be spent hanging from and climbing up silky fabric that dangles from the ceiling. "It translates into other areas of your life, too," says event producer and performer Heather Hammond. "Once you've overcome the fear of hanging upside down, you feel like a million bucks. You've just done something death-defying. It's a physical, mental, and emotional challenge." And there are no age constraints: Heliummm clients range from age 7 to 72.
2. Burlesque dancing. You'll learn the art of the slow tease by shimmying your shoulders and wiggling your hips. At some schools, you'll also learn how to walk in heels to optimize your appearance, how to improve your posture, and how to lure others via eye contact. Other moves you'll master: bumps, grinds, and chair dancing. Classes aren't for the shy or delicate, though, instructors say: You'll be working hard and getting on your hands and knees. [Read more: Try These Out-of-the-Box Fitness Classes]
Bikes for Aspiring Cyclists
Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone. And there's good reason to stick with two wheels as we grow up. For one thing, it makes financial sense: With $4-a-gallon gas in some cities, commuting by bike is a cheaper option. Every type of bike is available at different price points, making it affordable for most riders. Prices range from $200 into the thousands, with average costs hovering around $500.
Biking is as good for your body as it is your wallet: In a study published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, for example, researchers found that women who biked for as few as five minutes a day gained less weight than those who didn't ride. Other studies suggest that cyclists live about two years longer than non-bikers, and take 15 percent fewer sick days. And overall, research indicates that biking is good for the heart and helps stave off obesity, arthritis, and depression. (Expect to burn about 500 calories per hour, depending on how much you weigh, when moving at a moderate clip.) "The biggest thing is the fun factor," says cycling enthusiast Selene Yeager, author of Ride Your Way Lean: The Ultimate Plan for Burning Fat and Getting Fit on a Bike. "It's one of the closest feelings you can get to flying—it brings back the memory of your youth, it's a beautiful way to see places, and it's a relaxing form of exercise."
Once you decide to ride, the next step is weighing different types of bikes against each other and selecting the best fit. Choices include:
1. Road bikes. These light-weight bikes have skinny tires and drop handlebars that offer multiple options for hand position. They're ideal for riding long distances on paved or graded surfaces. They're built for speed, too, Yeager says. (Road bikes are used in the Tour de France race, for example.) [Read more: Bikes for Aspiring Cyclists]
Angela Haupt is a health reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.