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The Economic Burden Of Physical inactivity

Sproat Lake Hike
Sproat Lake Hike

Physical inactivity and obesity are recognized as two of the greatest threats to public health in Canada.

Two-thirds of Canadians are physically inactive, 61 per cent are either overweight or obese and 85 per cent of Nova Scotian adults are not meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week.

In addition, 15 per cent of Canadians are both physically inactive and obese. As a risk factor for many chronic diseases, physical inactivity and obesity, can be a substantial public health burden.

While assessing the public health impact of physical inactivity, it is necessary to view the proportion of a disease within the population that is directly attributable to physical inactivity. In 2004, 19 per cent of coronary artery disease cases in Canadian men are directly due to physical inactivity; and although not proven, similar results are likely for women. In 2014, it was also shown that the total health care cost of physical inactivity related to seven primary diseases was $35.8 billion, roughly four per cent of the overall health care costs. These diseases included coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Moreover, $30 billion alone was attributed to excess weight in addition to physical inactivity.

It is no secret that Nova Scotia’s health care system has its faults and as physical inactivity and obesity have surpassed epidemic proportions in Canada, it will soon account for a more significant portion of our health care costs over the years to come. Two-thirds of healthcare costs are used by five per cent of the population. Most of these high-cost patients are related to hospital stays of older adults who are sick with several preventable chronic health conditions at once (type 2 diabetes or heart disease).

Understanding the importance of exercise as it pertains to our bodies is one thing, but how it can pertain to our country’s health care system is another. With Nova Scotia’s aging population, our health care system will only begin to struggle even more as our resources are spread thin. If we are living longer, we should be living well, and exercise can do that.

The implementation of exercise programs, referring to exercise professionals, and investing in health promotion substantially reduces health care spending over the long-term. A 10 per cent reduction in the prevalence of physical inactivity has the potential to reduce direct health care costs by $150 million a year.

Physical inactivity does not only cause an economic burden on the country, but it also creates financial stress to the individual, specifically those in retirement, their families, communities and more.

As an exercise physiologist, part of my job is to help promote the awareness of exercise and physical activity to minimize the financial burden and help improve one’s quality of life. Becoming physically active will not only help reduce the burden on the health care system, but it will also help improve your own quality life; making your days and future years more enjoyable and independent. If you are becoming active for the first time, remember to consult a physician.

Joy Chiekwe is a certified exercise physiologist who uses exercise as a form of medicine to prevent and manage chronic disease, she studied kinesiology at Acadia University. Reach her at

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