Climate change has been described as one of the greatest threats to the environment and to human health and a new study published in the August issue of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health looks at the possible consequences to health.
One of the key outcomes of climate change is a rapid increase in global temperatures, resulting in rising sea levels and an increased frequency of acute heatwaves.
The population health risks linked to such temperature changes include increased morbidity and mortality due to infectious disease outbreaks and exposures to air pollution.
The impact of climate change on lifestyle behaviours and chronic disease risk has not been studied at the population level however and this is especially so for habitual levels of physical activity.
Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factor for global disease burden and is responsible for an estimated 5.3 million premature deaths a year worldwide, a figure comparable to that of smoking and obesity.
Thus, rising ambient temperature will have a considerable impact on physical activity patterns and choices, as people spend more time indoors under controlled climate conditions.
Physical activity levels are already low around the developed and parts of the developing world.
For example, less than 10% of people in the European Union report that they regularly exercise or participate in sport, with considerable variation between member states.
At the same time, most of these countries are undergoing an unprecedented epidemic of chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer that collectively account for most health care expenditure, disability, and premature mortality and for which physical inactivity plays a key etiological role.
Moreover, the negative consequences of global warming to health will be exacerbated among older people, who are already at greater risk of adverse outcomes during acute heatwaves.
Given the benefits of daily physical activity to the maintenance of mobility, independence and quality of life in older people, any further climate-related reductions in physical activity among this largely sedentary, high-risk population would have enormous economic and public health implications in conjunction with the rapid change in ageing demographics observed globally.
The report concludes that global warming is likely to have severe adverse effects on lifestyle behaviours and health outcomes and this may be especially so in those countries having already experienced considerable increases in temperatures over recent decades.