The SparkPeople Blog

Poll: Should Physical Inactivity Be Considered a Medical Condition?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/13/2012 6:00 AM   :  79 comments   :  12,273 Views

Over the years as technology has advanced and made it easier for us to sit more throughout the day, humans in general have become less active. This continued inactivity has lead to increasing obesity trends, along with other ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, "many people might find that they spend 8+ hours sitting at work and then come home and sit some more, whether it is to watch TV or for some other sedentary activity."
According to this article,  all this inactivity is being labeled as a "pandemic" and states that physical inactivity is "responsible for 1 in 10 deaths worldwide." Inactivity is something that can be changed and Michael Joyner, a Mayo Clinic physiologist, says "that one way to deal with the problem is to make physical inactivity a mainstream medical diagnosis." With that idea, we would place some of the responsibility on our doctors to prescribe exercise for us rather than have us taking full responsibility. Just because our doctor prescribes exercise and activity for us, does that mean that we will actually follow through with it? In my experience, that is not likely. While being inactive can cause a lot of health problems, you have to want to be active and better your health for you to actually follow through with becoming more active and establishing healthier habits. Having a doctor's prescription for exercise won't automatically make every inactive person change their ways and become active. Although, if physical inactivity were considered a medical condition, perhaps insurance companies would start to provide coverage for more preventative measures, including gym memberships or a reduction in your insurance premiums for participating in healthy activities and leading a healthier lifestyle, along with possibly helping to remove some of the excuses for those that are physically inactive.

Will a doctor's prescription for exercise help solve the issue of inactivity? 

Do you think that physical inactivity should be considered a medical condition?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints

NEXT ENTRY >   How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

Great Stories from around the Web


  • 79
    Sure, it would be great to have our insurance companies cover the costs of gym memberships, wouldn't it? Just make the insurance rates go up... and the cost of gyms go up, while the quality goes down, and they're forced to open their doors to everyone just like emergency rooms do.

    I mean, I'm looking forward to joining a gym when I get benefits from my new job--because free gym membership is one benefit this place is great enough to offer, as long as you commit to a certain number of visits per week. And otherwise, I don't have the income to afford a gym. But there's always the Y (not particularly local for me, but...) and the park, and the streets I can walk/jog on, or the mall to mall-walk at if I feel the need to be indoors for my workout. There's DVDs and free workout videos here at SP and on YouTube. If you can't afford dumbbells or a machine at home, there's cans of soup in the pantry and used bikes available inexpensively online. Inactivity is... well... the only thing that doctors could prescribe that would be sure to work would be attitude... and that's not something that can just be handed to you. If it's going to be something that's medically defined and handled, I think it has to go in with the mental issues, not with physical ones. It's not an ailment so much as a state of mind, and it really is up to individuals to turn themselves around. - 12/20/2012   11:14:48 AM
  • 78
    Reward and allow insurance coverage for laziness? Right. Anybody who is not comatose, is capable of activity, even those with injuries. Passive activity has been part of every CP or other patient's routine for a hundred years. - 10/6/2012   5:36:42 AM
    Everyone MUST be responsible for themselves. That includes exercising, eating right and contributing to the world in a positive manner! - 9/21/2012   5:57:59 PM
  • 76
    Inactivity is not a medical condition. It is a lifestyle choice. Human beings make bad choices and have to live with the consequences. If inactivity is a medical condition, then doctors will become lifestyle cops rather than healers. People will avoid their doctors to avoid criticism. Not much of an incentive for a healthy life. - 9/17/2012   6:00:30 PM
  • 75
    Be careful what you wish for. Right now my company is giving incentives for "healthy lifestyle choices" with bribes of $400. But to sign up for the gym membership, etc you also have to submit to biometrics scanning. Right now it is voluntary, but I see the day where it will become mandatory. And punitive. Either in increased insurance costs or even loss of jobs. What happens to a person like myself who has lost over 50 pounds but still has 50 to go. My biometrics aren't going to be stellar but where's the proof of the improvement I made all on my own without big brother nanny-ing me? - 9/17/2012   2:49:04 PM
  • 74
    My cardiologist wrote me a presciption to work out 5 days a week. lol, I was only doing 3 days. My employer pays $50 for attending your gym at least 8 days a month. 8 days!!! and only about 10 out of 100 employess take advantage. It's up to the individual to do what's best for their body/life. - 9/17/2012   1:51:02 PM
    This is an emotionally charged topic. Inactivity in and of itself is not exactly a medical condition. However; inactivity does lead to several health conditons that are detrimental to health and reduce quality of life. I think instead of prescribing excercise, we need to find the root of inactivity. Is it from depression, mental illness, physical disability, or just plane laziness? We all know that cigarettes contain carcinogens and are not good for our health. Yet, people still smoke them. I don't think we need to put the blame and the responsibility on health professionals. We all need to be accountable for our actions, our health, and the consequences of bad choices. I am taking the first step by joining spark and making choices for a healthier life style. It is not necessary for a doctor to write on a prescription pad to track my food and excercise intake when there are web programs such as spark that are very easily accessible. It is time we expect people to take responsibility for their own actions. - 9/17/2012   1:01:03 PM
    I agree with the many people who think we are absconding ourselves from our personal responsibility to take care of the most miraculous creation of all times - our body. As long as we are not afflicted with an incurable ailment or a genetic condition that does not allow for any form of physical activity, we need to be responsible for our health and well-being and that's all there is to that. - 9/17/2012   9:45:01 AM
  • KATEM200
    Physical inactivity is no more a medical condition than having unsafe sex or smoking. It's an unwise behavior that can lead to a medical condition. Doctors often tell people to get exercise, just as they tell them to use condoms and stop smoking. Regarding coverage for gyms and such, there are some insurance plans and employers that do offer a discounted gym membership along with other preventive healthcare. At the end of the day, they have actuaries crunching the numbers to figure out what will save them the most money. My guess is they've figured out that you could give everyone a free treadmill for their home, and most people would still sit down and watch TV. - 9/16/2012   5:24:58 PM
  • 70
    I voted "yes". But I think, if things were ever to go in this direction - in the first instance, "not exercising" should be classed as a mental/emotional/psychological issue rather than a physical illness.
    Leaving exercise to schools is, in a way, dodging the issue, as children learn so much in their first 2 or 3 years. To me, that means time at home. So the parental focus for this needs to be sorted, as well as requiring schools to provide plent of exercise (and fresh air to go with it).
    Maybe there should be a package of legislation for schools - fresh air, exercise, and healthy foods. Those would be better subjects to reduce the time available for the basics - The 3 Rs: reading, riting and rithmetic! -rather than the subjects which could be left till the next schooling stage. - 9/16/2012   4:05:38 PM
  • 69
    ARE YOU KIDDING ME? So, from what I get this is just another way for us to not have to take responsibility for our own actions. Now we are going from telling our kids, you are always a winner to telling ourselves it is never your fault. Why, as a planet at this point, are we trying to always blame someone else. I AM the reason I am inactive, I AM the reason my diet is crap, and I AM the only one who can change it. My doctor can talk all he or she wants but I AM the only one who can change it, no matter what they say. - 9/16/2012   12:34:12 PM
  • 68
    Question could be better phrased physical activity for kids....esp in school....and in nursing homes....and on the churches.....hospitals.....etc. - 9/15/2012   7:40:32 PM
  • 67
    Is not brushing your teeth a dental condition?

    No. Although I suppose someone could have a medical condition that makes it difficult or impossible to do it, it is not in and of itself neither a medical condition nor a dental one. It will lead to one or more dental conditions - cavities, gum disease...

    Likewise inactivity is not a medical condition. Although sometimes there may be medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible.

    Now a prescription for exercise would not be a bad thing. Not a bad idea at all. - 9/15/2012   5:22:24 PM
  • 66
    Torn on this one but voted "yes"...I think gym memberships and fitness equipment should be covered by insurance, but there would have to be a tangible/creative way to track its use. Imagine something like a safe driver discount...if one were willing to participate, s/he could have their health/fitness goals monitored and as s/he meets these goals, their deductible or premiums could be decreased, or benefits such as gym memberships that are being used increased. Just a thought. I do think people need to take responsibility for their own fitness and nutrition--as I did, resulting in a 50-lb weight loss and BP reduction from outrageously high to low-normal--but at the same time, there is such an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and culture of inactivity in this country, people who are actively working to make change and break these patterns should be recognized with benefits for preventive health care rather than incurring costs for treatment. Just my thoughts... - 9/15/2012   1:45:42 PM
  • 65
    Being inactive is apt to make one OUT of condition, but being inactive is not a medical condition; it is a condition of attitude, of mind, so to speak.

    Labeling it medical seems to relieve the inactive one of responsibility for doing anything about it--it's like a scolding.

    I wonder sometimes where the education to BE responsible went, when it stopped being part of our moral/social environment. I miss it. - 9/15/2012   10:02:57 AM
  • 64
    You're kidding right? - 9/15/2012   1:29:29 AM
  • 63
    We have a "condition" for everything. What a CROCK! -- Nothing like passing the buck, once again, and making it "somebody else's issue" vs. owning our lives, our choices, our "stupid".
    People say they believe in evolution. Hmmmm.... Survival of the fittest???? - 9/15/2012   1:19:33 AM
  • 62
    Though I don't believe that inactivity should be a medical diagnosis, I do believe more effort should be made to educate peoople on what exercises, food, etc. they can do. They need to do this in all communities, but especially in poor communities because access to healthy food and nutrition is lacking. Some communities have fast food joints that are a few steps away yet have to drive miles to get to a supermarket with fresh food choices. There are people who don't know where even to begin as regards to physical activity. There should be mobile buses that go around the country to teach people about exercise and nutrition, maybe put in an incentive like gifts cards, movie tickets, discount cards for supermarkets, gym trial cards and such to bring people out? - 9/15/2012   12:19:32 AM
  • 61
    putting the burden on your doctor to "prescribe" exercise is like blaming McDonald's for obesity. no one makes you buy food at mcdonald's and no one needs a doctor to tell them they need to have some type of physical activity, even if it is very modified. people need to accept responsiblity for their choices, not blame someone else. - 9/14/2012   9:27:08 PM
  • TGIF697
    I don't believe that physical inactivity should be labeled as a disease. I have been told by my doctor to not walk as it will cause further problems with the knees and ankles. I have been doing tsi chi while being seated and this is helping me. But I have not been told to do this by a doctor although they are happy with my ability to do so. - 9/14/2012   7:05:08 PM
  • 59
    After a severe neck injury in an accident, neck surgery and neck braces for 3 months, I expected a round of rehab. I was shocked when the doctor said "No. Just walk every day. That is the best therapy."
    But I got busy back with life, work, family, church. I kept MEANING to walk, but...

    If the doctor had written on a prescription pad "WALK!" I might have.

    It wasn't until 5 years later, when I read a Spark article with a photo of a prescription pad with "EXERCISE" on it, that it finally CLICKED!
    I take my blood pressure medicine daily, so why not walk daily as medicine too!?!?!
    So SIMPLE. Yet some of us have to learn the hard way - like after gaining 30 pounds from inactivity.
    THANKS to Spark for leading me/us to healthier, hopefully longer, lives! - 9/14/2012   5:23:26 PM
  • 58
    Your activity level is a choice that you make all on your own. yes, the doctors can start telling patients to get more exercise but it is still up to the patient whether or not they actually do it. Also, you do not need a gym membership to be healthy and active, imo that is a lame excuse and should never be used. - 9/14/2012   5:20:22 PM
  • 57
    Inactivity is a choice NOT a medical condition! Even a prescription from a doctor does not mean that a person will follow through. If it is made a medical condition then insurance companies might have to start paying for gym memberships and exercise equipment that will probably go unused by many of the people who just choose to be inactive. I do not beleive I should have to pay in increased insurance premiums, for other peoples' choice to not step out the door in a pair of walking/running shoes. - 9/14/2012   3:19:25 PM
  • 56
    Physical inactivity is a choice not a medical condition. - 9/14/2012   2:34:46 PM
    I think we all need to exercise especially those of us who are sedentary ,most of the day.I just bought an elliptical machine and use it far,suspect it will get boring soon but I also have a bicyle to ride and I do walk often hope everyone out there has some form of exercise they enjoy or at least do everyday !! - 9/14/2012   2:25:02 PM
  • 54
    Inactivity is a contributor to some health conditions, but it isn't a health condition by itself. Activity is a treatment for other health conditions. It's analogous to altitude -- I live at 9,400 ft, which is not good for anyone with hypertension. It's harder to control at altitude. Should living at altitude be considered a health condition? No. It contributes to uncontrolled hypertension, but it isn't a healt condition itself. - 9/14/2012   12:09:35 PM
  • 53
    If it could make insurance companies cover things like gym memberships & nutritionists (which mine does not) then yes it should be considered a medical condition. - 9/14/2012   11:47:57 AM
  • 52
    Inactivity is a MENTAL condition. . i have it. i call it laziness. - 9/14/2012   11:37:01 AM
  • 51
    You cannot make a choice a medical condition. I had chosen a lifestyle of inactivity. Just as now I am chosing to lead a more active lifestyle. I am chosing to be healthier. Medical conditions are not a choice, but an actual condition that you either inherit genetically or develop overtime through work, wear and tear, ect. The choice of remaining inactive versus getting up is personal and should not enter in the medical field. What's next? Breathing Air is a medical condition? - 9/14/2012   10:42:19 AM
  • 50
    I don't think that inactivity, in itself, is a medical condition, but the reasons for it often are. My doctor is always telling me to go out and walk, but I have a bad problem when I do. Sometimes I can manage it, but usually that problem keeps me from going anywhere (also keeps me from getting a job outside the house, which is a big problem). There isn't much room in the house to do anything much so I try to go to the rec center when I can. - 9/14/2012   10:24:31 AM
  • 49
    Should laziness be considered a reason for one's unemployment? Collect benefits for your 'condition'? - 9/14/2012   10:12:13 AM
  • 48
    I was out yesterday helping fundraise money for make-a-wish, one child that I was helping fundraise money for. She needed a bone marrow transplant, which she got. For roughly a year she wasnt allowed to do physical activity, wasn't allowed to do gym class. She now has to do physical activity. She's not used to it. It all depends on perspective. - 9/14/2012   10:04:55 AM
    It would be a slippery slope to label physical inactivity a medical condition. Should chairs come with a health warning as do cigarettes? - 9/14/2012   9:55:14 AM
    This is ridiculous - Inactivity is not a medical disease. Obviously, there are individuals that have limited mobility from issues like car accidents, aging, surgeries, etc. that will limit the types and amount of activity they can do. However, no "diagnosis" of inactivity from an MD is going to change that. There are personal trainers, websites (including SP), and exercise dvds that illustrate modified versions of exercises. For example, a person clearly can't run 10 miles if they have bad knees, but they can throw punches for cardio and do bicep curls for strength. If someone wants to be active, they will find a way. If they don't, they will find an excuse. - 9/14/2012   9:31:55 AM
  • BRATT6504
    I voted yes because if it were a health condition than i would hopefully get direct orders what to do. I hate exercise because i hurt after it the pain makes me stop. I have a back problem since a car crash and the pain makes me not want to do anything. I did pt after it and do the few exercises they gave me daily but were do i go from here - 9/14/2012   8:44:20 AM
  • 44
    I voted yes. I have a DD who has several medical conditions which all contribute to inactivity. People assume that it is her eating habits that are the problem that have her morbidly obese. I have two other daughters who eat exactly the same foods that she does but larger portions because they are active and they are slim. I think by identifying the behaviour it helps make a medical plan. "Diet" is not appropriate for her. In addition there has to be compliance. People who want to live in this world are more likely to be motivated to be active. My daughter suffers from depression because of her medical problems and is not self motivated to exercise. She also has Asperger's with sensory sensitivites so has difficutly with noise, polllution, heat, pollen etc. In my mind the problem is that she does not move enough... but it is very complicated. - 9/14/2012   8:23:23 AM
  • MARTY32M
    I reluctantly voted NO. Inactivity is not a medical condition. Obesity is a medical condition and inactivity is one of many causative factors. But physicians are at fault because they're not trained to treat obesity except by medications and surgery. They can say "you have to lose weight" but they don't know what to say next.

    As so many comments here have said, people know they should be physically active, but something in their minds keeps them from being active. Maybe you could say inactivity is a psychiatric condition. Physicians should know how to motivate their patients to do what the patients know they should do but don't want to. But that isn't in their medical training. - 9/14/2012   8:13:20 AM
  • DORIAN4182
    It is not a medical condidtion but a choice(doing nothing is a passisve choice). I would guess that by now most people know you must be physically active to assist with weight management and to prevent chronic diseases.Doctors can't be responsible for our inactivity and outside of eat less and move more are they really qualified to prescribe exercise. - 9/14/2012   7:52:26 AM
  • 41
    The posts and opinions stated are great. Many well thought through. Complex situation. Personally I believe it is partially brought about by our "entitlement" mindset. People believe they are entitled to everything that is easy or convenient, luxury if you will. Why be responsible for yourself when you can be part of some "program"? In the 50s people had one car, no remote control, no frozen meals, very few government programs..... Not saying we need to go back to the 50's but work was part of life then. As a nation, we were much more giving, sharing, supporting, and responsible. - 9/14/2012   7:44:47 AM
  • 40
    Hot topic, here. People have the right to choose whether or not to smoke, to overeat. People also have the right to choose whether or not to be physically active. People are not sheep. They should not have to be "ordered" to do something in their own best interests. And I would have a huge problem if I saw my health insurance premiums rise to cover people being prescribed something as common-sense as exercise--just likethe outrage I currently with having to foot the bill for smoking related illnesses and diet-related obesity. - 9/14/2012   7:20:30 AM
  • 39
    It already is a medical condition in a way, but getting my flex spending account to pony up MY money for activities my doctor prescribes (yoga for back pain & hip flexibility, weight training to stave off osteoporosis) is next to impossible. Dingbat bureaucrats deny my claims, saying I need a diagnosis code...when it's staring them in the face on the form. Sheesh! - 9/14/2012   5:33:11 AM
  • 38
    It's interesting how strongly people feel about this. I think the problem lies in the terminology of the article - inactivity is obviously not a medical condition and there are many intelligent reasons for this already given here. But physical activity is an effective treatment for many medical conditions - depression being an important one. No-one has a problem with exercise being prescribed when it's called "physiotherapy" :wry grin: So that's probably the answer - call it something different :lol:

    Frankly, people just don't take any notice when they are told over and over "you should smoke less, you should drink less, you should exercise more, you should lose some weight". It's way too general and there's a little voice inside them that says "they always say that, they say that to everyone, they don't mean me".

    This isn't making the doctor "responsible" for someone exercising - that's a nonsense and it's simply not possible. It's suggesting that the doctor frame medical advice in a way that means a patient is more likely to pay attention. Something a little more prescriptive and rather better defined than "you should exercise more" could definitely have a positive impact, and be the key to setting someone on the right road. Just 10 minutes with the practice nurse working out what's possible and practical could result in a plan and a bit of motivation. Coupling it with referring them to a great free site like Spark could start a small revolution in healthcare. What's not to like?
    - 9/14/2012   4:56:24 AM
  • 37
    Although I voted "no," I think that if just one person was encouraged to get out and exercise because of a doctor's prescription to do so, it would be worth it. Let's face it, this country is experiencing a medical crisis of epic proportions, and we need to get proactive in solving it. - 9/14/2012   2:25:26 AM
  • 36
    Oh, come now! Let's be responsible for our actions or inactions as the case may be. I walk every day, my husband does not. I watch my diet, my husband does not. We're both obese, but I'm inching down to "overweight". I am responsible for what I put in my mouth, how much activity I get, how much sleep I get. My doctor is responsible for diagnosing disease and recommending treatments. Inactivity is NOT a disease, but it can cause disease just as a virus or a bacteria can cause disease.
    Our culture has evolved into a "it's not my problem, it's the government's (or someone else's) problem" mentality. This has got to stop! - 9/13/2012   11:19:53 PM
  • CCHEF1
    I realize this is rhetorical as it is unlikely inactivity will ever be defined as a medical condtion. But with the state of health insurance being in flux as to the laws right now and how this will impact the existing system that people rely on (but can't afford), why would we want to fool around with trying to add one more complicated definition.

    Anyway, of course inactivity is not a medical condition, but it leads to medical conditions (lol as does my sitting here and posting on the internet when I could be active doing something). - 9/13/2012   5:52:25 PM
  • 34
    This is timely for me. My father passed away this morning at age 88. He had a myriad of problems, with Alzheimer's being the overarching one. He was also diabetic and very overweight and inactive. No amount of coaxing could get him to change. I don't think that calling it a medical condition would have made a difference. It was a behavioral thing. I don't think stubbornness is a medical condition, and that was a big part of it. - 9/13/2012   5:01:16 PM
  • 33
    Inactivity is not a medical condition in and of itself. Inactivity CAN be the result of other medical conditions. If Inactivity is described as a medical condition in and of itself, it will mask the true underlying conditions that need to be treated. However, if inactivity is NOT the result of another medical condition, then it is simply a personal decision that can be changed.

    Labeling inactivity as a medical condition helps no one, especially those suffering from medical conditions that are causing the inactivity. - 9/13/2012   3:02:42 PM
  • 32
    Without this designation, my Employer ( who has taken on the risk of our insurance) provides us with a free pedometer and rewards us for healthy actions including Step milestones with health bucks that can be used for deductibles and co-insurance costs. This in conjunction with SparkPeople has gotten me off of my butt and logging 7000-10000 steps during the week and upwards of 12000 steps on the weekend. This has been going on for three years and before it started I would be lucky to make 1000 steps in a day since my work day is spent in front of a computer with a printer right outside my office and a rest room and coffee less than 300 steps away. While my employer kind of caused this lack of activity I applaud them for taken such strides to get us more healthy even though we do so kicking and screaming. - 9/13/2012   2:19:44 PM
  • GROD003
    I think that it should be due to the fact that I am disabled and not able to just get up and go. There are some days where I cannot even get out of bed due to the pain. If my doc, or any one of my specialists, would tell me what they will allow and send me to physical therapy, then I could learn, but of course, that comes down to the insurance paying for the therapy. Which of course they wont. I have had to resort to having gastric bypass just to lose 200 pounds and am still losing.I am told to just do what I can, I can walk to the mailbox and back. I have a permanetly straight leg and so running and cycling, which I loved to do, are out. I do what I can but do wish that the drs. would get off me about being overweight, 200 now. They wont suggest too much, not sure why.I want to be part of the solution to my health issues and not the problem but need help trying to learn new ways of doing the same things that you all can. I would love to be able to move enough to make a difference but I don't think that's possible. I just keep plugging along. I may not get any better, but I'm NOT going to just sit and become a couch potato either if possible. - 9/13/2012   2:03:06 PM
  • 30
    Inactivity should definitely be discussed with healthcare providers as an important issue and how it can lead to medical conditions. But pathologizing it won't solve the problem. - 9/13/2012   1:46:46 PM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›


Sign up for a FREE SparkPeople account