Major Consequences of Physical Inactivity

Posted at 9:50 pm on 07/26/2016
by Galen A. Morton, MA and Len Kravitz, PhD on Jul 12, 2016

In the fifth century BC, the famous Greek physician Hippocrates observed, “All parts of the body, if used in moderation and exercised in labors to which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy and well developed and age slowly; but if they are unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly” (Kokkinos & Myers 2010).

Scientists have proved Hippocrates right time and again in recent years. In a review of the latest science, Booth, Roberts & Laye (2012) point to 35 chronic diseases and health conditions (see the sidebar “Combating 35 Health Problems”) that regular exercise and physical activity do much to prevent. Booth and colleagues also indicate that 92% of adolescents and 95% of adults in the U.S. do not meet minimum guidelines for physical activity. This presents countless opportunities for personal trainers and other exercise professionals to make a difference in people’s lives.

Franklin (2008) stresses that our ever-growing reliance on technology—including automobiles, elevators, remote controls and energy-saving devices—explains the prevailing lack of physical activity. Franklin also underscores that regular physical activity, not a drug or pill, is the best strategy to combat sedentary death syndrome (SeDS)—chronic, potentially life-threatening disease caused by an inactive lifestyle. Listed below are some consequences for lack of physical activity:

  • Proneness to visceral obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Weaker immune system
  • Less executive control of the central nervous system; memory decline
  • Sarcopenia and loss of strength
  • Reduced skin-wound healing
  • Lower oxidative capacity
  • Higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression and anxiety
  • Artery stiffness
  • Higher risk of breast, endometrial and colon cancer
  • Elevated risk of osteoporosis
  • Loss of coordination and balance (higher risk of fracture/falls)
  • Decreased function of joints, ligaments and tendons
  • Elevated risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and peripheral artery disease
  • Hypertension, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol, low HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

To read more about how physical activity can reduce the risk of nearly three dozen harmful conditions and life-threatening diseases, please see "35 Ailments, One Prescription: MOVE!" in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.


Booth, F.W., Roberts, C.K., & Laye, M.J. 2012. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Comprehensive Physiology, 2 (2), 1143–1211.

Franklin, B.A. 2008. Physical activity to combat chronic diseases and escalating health care costs: The unfilled prescription. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 7 (3), 122–25.

Kokkinos, P., & Myers, J. 2010. Exercise and physical activity: Clinical outcomes and applications.Circulation, 122 (16), 1637–48.

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