Opinion

Don’t just sit and watch, go out and play | Gustafson

Whether you are a diehard fan of football – or, as Americans call it, “soccer” – or not so much, it is impossible to escape the World Cup fever that has gripped the globe again this summer. With the competition in full swing, millions spend hours sitting in front of TVs and computer screens, while their teams engage in grueling matches. For the players it may be one of the most physically challenging sport events of any kind, but for the rest of us, it is basically party time for a month.

Even if you discount all the drinking and snacking that typically comes with watching games on television, the fact that people sit for extended periods of time is disconcerting enough, according to studies on the health effects of sitting. Recent research from Spain found that adults who spend three or more hours in front of the tube per day may double their risk of premature death compared to those who watch less.

For their project, the research team followed over 13,000 adults for an average of eight years, studying their physical activity level and sedentary behavior. They found that participants who watched television for an hour or less per day had approximately half the mortality risk of those who watched three hours or longer.

The results took into account diet and lifestyle differences as well as age. It is possible that other factors like existing illnesses played a role in some cases, but it also became clear that prolonged inactivity contributed to increase resistance to insulin, reduced lean muscle mass, and increased body fat.

“These mechanisms are related to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, such as colon, rectum, and breast,” said Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzales, a researcher at the Department of Public Health at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, and lead author of the study report, to Reuters.

Other experts on the subject who commented on the study said that these latest findings confirmed prior research that also saw a connection between sedentary behavior and greater mortality risks.

It would be unfortunate if the excitement over major sport events like the World Cup or the Olympic games didn’t trigger more engagement in physical activity, especially among the young. These are occasions when parents could have a better shot at motivating their kids (and themselves) to exercise or just play together.

“One big advantage is that children get to see many sports and athletes in a condensed time frame. It’s the perfect time for parents to encourage their children to consider what [sport] interests them,” said Karen Magnussen, herself a figure skater from Canada who won three World Championship medals and Olympic silver.

Parents should listen and observe how their youngsters react, and support the ambitions they may develop based on what they see in the accomplishments of others, she added.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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