You may love your car but is it good for you?

According to the experts, the answer may well be no. That’s because the average person now walks much less each year than we did just a decade ago – and this poses a huge threat to our health in various ways.

The car seems to have replaced journeys on foot and our resulting inactive lifestyle – described as a ‘silent epidemic’ – may just be killing us. Being inactive is the fourth leading cause of premature deaths around the world, with lack of exercise leaving us at risk of dying early from conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

The trend towards inactivity is so worrying health experts that Nice – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – has published guidance to urge people to get out of their cars and walk.

Being stuck in our cars is bad for our health

In the late 1990s, people in Europe traditionally walked about 250 miles a year. By 2008, that had fallen to 170 miles – a drop of 80 miles each year. That fall is no doubt due to the rising use of the car – we still used to walk for 44% of the time a decade ago, but now only take journeys by foot just 22% of the time.

The Nice guidelines urge school, councils and businesses to encourage people to be more active. They include the suggestion to create special signs showing distances and walking times and also suggest that town halls should limit car use via higher fees and restrictions in the hope that it will force people to walk instead.

The latter has met with strong opposition from the likes of Tax Payer’s Alliance, which points out that the suggested price rises for the likes of parking would hit struggling families and tax payers hard.

Dr Harry Rutter of the National Obesity Observatory, however, told the Daily Telegraph: “Only a minority of people in England get enough physical activity to improve their health.

“This creates a huge and often invisible burden of illness and reduced quality of life, but most people seem unaware of that burden.

“Across the population, lack of physical activity causes roughly the same level of ill health that smoking does.

“We all face barriers in changing our lifestyles and many of us feel we don’t have the time or the inclination to add regular physical activity into our lives – it can be very difficult to break old habits and change behaviour.

“But walking and cycling to work, to school, to the shops or elsewhere can make a huge difference.”

Inactivity follows high-blood pressure, smoking and raised blood sugar levels as the fourth leading cause of premature death worldwide.

Leave your car at home and walk or cycle instead.

There’s now another reason to take up exercise… it can actually put you OFF food!

Rather than ‘working up an appetite’, a good workout can actually reduce the urge to eat… immediately afterwards at least.

The findings of a study by BYU (Brigham Youth University) – which discovered that an exerciser’s desire to eat is actually decreased after a 45 minute moderate to vigorous workout — back up previous research published in Obesity Reviews in 2011.

That research claimed that exercise could actually encourage people to eat healthier because it helped to change the brain’s impulsive behaviour.

The most recent study asked 35 women to look at pictures of food on mornings with and without exercise and measured their responses. The study noted that their response to the images decreased after the exercise.

To test the theory further, on different days the women, 17 clinically obese and 18 of average weight, were asked to work out on a treadmill for 45 minutes; they then had their brainwaves measured while they subsequently looked at 240 pictures (120 of food and another 120 of flowers as a control).

This was repeated seven days later but without the exercise to see if results differed.

The study showed that regardless of BMI, after exercising for 45 minutes the women had a decrease in brain response to pictures of  food AND a subsequent increase in the amount of physical activity they did that day.

Published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Professor James LeCheminant said: “This study provides evidence that exercise not only affects energy output, but it also may affect how people respond to food cues.

“We wanted to see if obesity influenced food motivation, but it didn’t. However, it was clear that the exercise bout was playing a role in their neural responses to the pictures of food.”

The research also noted that the women did not consume any more food on the day of the workout to make up for that which they had expended; indeed, they ate roughly the same amount as on their non-exercise day.

As this was one of the first studies to look at food response and exercise, the study’s authors admitted more research will need to be done, specifically to see how long the reduced desire to eat can last and whether the same pattern is seen in long-term exercise.

Check out our list of fruits that burn fat, fat burning foods and our recommended flat belly exercises.

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