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Chartered Physiotherapists are concerned that 2/3 of Irish Adults are not active enough – “Sitting is the New Smoking” Health Experts warn

Health survey for World Physiotherapy Day shows over 55s are outperforming all younger age groups in time spent at physical activity but need to do more resistance exercise to increase quality of life in later years.

Children are spending far too much time ‘on screen’ using TV, tablets and smartphones

Conor McGregor and Kathryn Thomas most likely celebrities to encourage physical activity!

Date: Thursday 7th September 2017

An avoidable health crisis is looming for Irish Adults if current trends in physical inactivity continue. Two in three Irish adults are not getting enough activity to maximise the benefits for their health and initial findings from the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists in their World Physiotherapy day survey suggest that 18-24 year olds may be the least physically active amongst all adults.

The 18-24 year olds surveyed were just expending 1496 METmins per week whilst the total population was expending 2137 METmins per week. New recommendations on Physical Activity levels (BMJ 2016) demonstrate that the maximum health benefits from physical activity can be achieved by getting between 3000 and 4000 METmins of activity per week. The METmin is a unit that describes volumes of physical activity. 60 METmins equates to the energy consumed by sitting quietly for 1 hour.

The survey also found that the 55 and over age categories are outperforming the younger age groups in their daily physical activity levels which is very positive and that children are spending far too much time ‘on screen’ (using TV, tablets and phones) when compared with International recommendations on screen time.

The survey showed on average, the youngest 18-24 age group report spending the least amount of time per day being physically active at just 2.5 hours per day. This is especially concerning when you consider that peak bone density is achieved between the ages of 25-30 for most adults. If younger adults fail to appropriately load their bones they can open themselves up to greater risk of osteoporosis in later life.

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading factor in global mortality and is responsible for 6% of deaths around the world. Other health benefits from engaging in more physical activity are well documented in the scientific literature and include decreased risk of common killers such as: 

  • colon cancer by 30 -40 % 
  • breast cancer by 20- 30% 
  • cardio vascular disease by 20-35% 
  • Type 2 Diabetes by 20-30% 
  • Stroke by 20%

In comparison the 55-64 and 65+ age groups are more physically active, reporting that they spend on average 4.4 hours and 4.3 hours respectively per day being active. This alarming comparison is compounded by the fact that the 18-24 category spend by far the most time on screen at 5 hours per day compared to the lowest amounts of 3.9 hours for the 55-64 group and 3.6 hours for the 65+ and again the latter older two categories are the only two that spend more time being physically active than being on a screen. TV viewing and other screen-focused activities have been highlighted as key determinants of sedentary behaviour (AJPM 2011 (Owen et al) ) and international results suggest that low physical activity levels and high screen-time demonstrate the greatest negative impact on health related quality of life. (Davies et al 2012). Sedentary lifestyles cost the world 67.5 billion USD in 2013 alone through chronic disease and early deaths. (Lancet)

Interestingly, on a regional basis the people of Connacht/Ulster report spending the most time being physically active at 4.1 hours compared to Dublin which had the lowest amount at 2.9 hours which most probably reflects the high office based environment whilst they also had the least amount of screen time per day of all the regions at 3.9 hours per day compared to Dublin at 4.3 hours which was the most.

Again the survey showed that a worrying 72% of the national population recognise that they don’t exercise enough with the main reasons for not being more active being: 

  • Difficulty finding time (25%) 
  • Family commitments (20%) 
  • Not liking exercise (15%)

Within this part of the survey a massive 87% of the 18-24 group admitted that they are not doing enough physical activity. Key reasons in this group were; 

  • They don’t have the time (39%) 
  • They don’t like exercise (28%) 
  • Being unsure how to fit exercise into their day (20%)

A cause for concern within the survey found that average time spent in front of any screen for children is far too much and averaged at 2.8hrs per day which is well above the 2hr recommended health guidelines. It was also found that an alarming 45% of parents report that their children spend well above this average recommended limit of 2hrs screen time according to the American Academy of Paediatrics (Paediatrics Journal 2013) with 25% spending over twice that at 4 hours per day. An updated recommendation in 2016 from the same academy recommended limiting children from 2-5 years to just one hour per day.

Further findings noted that 21% of adults have more than 6 hours screen time which is most probably becauseof modern office based work practices so the ISCP are recommending that people in these situations should take personal responsibility by: 

  • Taking a break at least once per hour 
  • Taking a short walk 
  • Stretch to ease muscle tension and combat poor posture which can lead to common ailments like neck and back pain.

Nationally across all ages the population are mostly getting their exercise and physical activity through household chores at 3.7hrs per week with walking as the next most popular at 3.5hrs per week followed by work related manual labour just over 2hrs per week.

ISCP President Professor Marie Guidon said “We need the nation to recognise that sitting and being sedentary is the new smoking and that if people aren’t more physically active now then this will lead to all kinds of future problems such as greater incidence of obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, mental health challenges as well as back and pelvic problems which in turn can lead to decreased mobility and poorer quality of life in later years. It is never too late to start being more active. Physical activity needs to start earlier and needs to be maintained throughout the lifespan to maintain quality of life especially in an era where the population is growing older and living longer.

“We recommend easy activity like walking and very simple strength and resistance exercises which is important to maintain muscle strength and everyday functioning and a Chartered Physiotherapist is the best healthcarepractitioner to advise on this if a person of any age is unsure,” she continued.

Finally, the survey showed that UFC superstar Conor McGregor and RTE’s well known ‘Operation Transformation’ presenter turned fitness guru Kathryn Thomas were voted the celebrities that would be most likely to encourage people to get physically active (24% each) with the Olympic medal winning rowing O’Donovan Brothers in third at 19% with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan coming in as the least likely at 3% and 2% respectively.

Main Survey Results

Results each category re time being physical active in hours per day: 18-24 (2.5), 25-34 (3.2), 35-44 (3.1), 45-54 (3.4), 55-64 (4.4), 65+ (4.3). Dublin (2.9), Rest of Leinster (3.8), Munster (3.5), Conn/Ulster (4.1)

Results each category re time being ‘on screen’ in hours per day: 18-24 (5), 25-34 (4.1), 35-44 (4.2), 45-54 (4.1), 55-64 (3.9), 65+ (3.6). Dublin (4.3), Rest of Leinster (3.9), Munster (4), Conn/Ulster (3.9)

Results for each category that admit they don’t exercise enough: 18-24 (87%), 25-34 (83%), 35-44 (77%), 45-54 (81%), 55-64 (58%), 65+ (50%)

When asked what well known personality would inspire you to get active: Conor McGregor (24%), Kathryn Thomas (24%), O’Donovan Brothers (19%), Irish Ladies Rugby Team (7%), Strictly Come Dancing’s Aoibhinn Garrihy (7%), Sharon ni Bheolain (6%), Enda Kenny (3%), Miriam O’Callaghan (2%)

Research was conducted through an online survey across a nationally representative sample of 1,001 adults aged 18+ by Empathy Research. Quotas were placed on gender, age, social class and region with weighting applied to ensure final data was representative of these quotas. Research was conducted amongst members of Empathy Research’s proprietary research panel. Fieldwork was conducted from 18th – 25th August 2017.

The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP representing over 3,000 chartered physiotherapists nationally) is celebrating World Physiotherapy Day on Friday Sept 8th 2017 with the theme “Physical activity for life” #getactivetoday advocating better quality of life for all ages with increased physical activity. They will provide information on the benefits of activity and ways to include it in everyday life. At sites throughout the country Chartered physiotherapists will be available to answer questions and encourage people to become more active. On social media they will be invited to post their activity of the day.

Key simple guide points from the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists: 

  • Sedentary behaviour – too much sitting, has been shown to increase risk of chronic disease, particularly diabetes and cardiovascular disease 
  • The suggested target for older adults (>65): 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. 
  • 30 minutes of brisk walking or the equivalent five days a week is recommended. 
  • In addition, physical activity to improve strength should be done at least two days a week. 
  • Some people can find this it difficult to reach this level of activity but by making modest increases in your time standing and spending less time sitting can have a positive effective. 
  • Observational data have confirmed associations between increased physical activity and reduction in musculoskeletal conditions