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Inactivity costs us $6.8-billion a year. (You thought love handles were bad)

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You lace up your running shoes and stagger around your neighbourhood once or twice a week. Or perhaps you absentmindedly lift weights at the gym while watching sports highlights on TV. Or maybe you walk to work every so often. You must be physically active, right?

Think again. A new study says that most of us – 85 per cent of Canadians – are inactive. And it's costing the health-care system dearly.

In total, our inactivity cost $6.8-billion a year in 2009, according to an analysis by Ian Janssen, Canada Research Chair in physical activity and obesity at Queen's University. That figure includes $2.4-billion in direct costs, which includes providing care to patients and $4.3-billion in indirect costs, which can include workplace absenteeism and long-term disability.

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Physical inactivity "has surpassed epidemic proportions in Canada and accounts for a significant portion of health care spending," Prof. Janssen wrote in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Guidelines say that in order to be fit, Canadians should get 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week.

Prof. Janssen said that seven chronic diseases are consistently linked to physical activity levels: coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. The study found that 15 to 39 per cent of such cases in Canada were directly linked to inactivity.

Of those chronic diseases, the report concluded that the most expensive are coronary artery disease at $2.7-billion, Type 2 diabetes at $1.4-billion, and stroke at $1.1-billion.

Future research should look at what effect a boost in physical activity could have on the health of Canadians, according to Prof. Janssen. But it's hard to imagine that getting more exercise could possibly make these figures any worse.

Do you get 150 minutes of exercise a week?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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