Blair is a top expert on exercise and its health benefits, and he is a professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health. At the conference, he reviewed research on sedentary living, which means having no regular physical activity and sedentary jobs. "Given that these individuals are doubling their risk of developing numerous health conditions compared with those who are even moderately active and fit, we're looking at a major public health problem,” he says.
Blair’s own ongoing research, known as the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, reveals that fitness level is a significant predictor of mortality. The extensive project involves more than 80,000 people and was begun in 1970. Participants are periodically evaluated for body mass index (BMI), body composition, and stress tests, among numerous other factors. One follow-up study of about half the participants showed that 16 percent of all deaths in men and women could be attributed to poor fitness level. Another study of over 14,000 female participants revealed that highly fit women were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than unfit women. This conclusion remained the same even after adjusting for body mass index, family history and smoking status.
At the conference, Blair also described the mental benefits of exercise. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that exercise helps prevent mental decline and maintain neurological fitness. He noted that now that technological developments and engineering have all but eliminated the need for physical activity in our daily lives, we must choose to incorporate it. This change involves not only individual decision-making but also requires changes in the healthcare system and in the way we promote physical activity in our communities and through our governments.