Step up, Canadians: You're less active than most of the world
Compared to others around the world, Canadians don’t walk anywhere near as often, a new study finds. What’s more, there’s a huge gulf in our country among the most active and most inactive.
The study used step counters, or accelerometers, on smartphones to assess the walking habits of people in more than 111 countries. It found that the average number of steps taken each day was approximately 5,000, or the equivalent of 4 kilometres.
But many countries, including Canada, fell well below that standard, according to the study, which appears in the journal Nature.
Residents of Hong Kong do the most walking, taking an average of 6,880 steps each day - the equivalent of six kilometres. Residents of China and Ukraine round out the Top 3.
But those in Indonesia manage just 3,513. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia also fare poorly, taking an average of 3,807 steps and 3,963 steps, respectively.
Canadians take an average of 4,819 steps a day -- just a few more than Americans, who take an average of 4,774 steps.
That’s far fewer than Britons, who beat the global average and take 5,444 steps a day. In fact, people in most countries in Europe walk more than Canadians.
The findings were made by Stanford University researchers who looked at smartphone data from more than 700,000 people men and women in 111 countries, whose steps were studied for an average of 95 days.
All the participants contributed to this study by subscribing to the Azumio Argus app, a free app for tracking physical activity. The researchers then narrowed in on the 46 countries with more than 1,000 Azumio users.
One of the most interesting findings from the study was that the average number of steps taken in each country had little impact on predicting their obesity rates.
What did matter was something called “activity inequality” – essentially, the disparity between the most active people in a country and its most inactive.
In countries that had low rates of obesity, people mostly walked a similar amount per day. But in countries with higher obesity rates, there were big gaps between people who walked a lot and those who walked very little.
In fact, people in the five countries with the greatest activity inequality were nearly 200 per cent more likely to be obese than individuals from the five countries with the lowest activity inequality.
Canada fared quite poorly in “activity inequality,” ranking in the bottom three with a score that tied us with Egypt and the United States.
Another interesting related finding involved gender. The researchers weren’t surprised to find that men tended to walk more, on average, than women. But they also noticed that in countries with the greatest activity inequality, women’s inactivity was much more pronounced.
In countries where activity levels are similar across the population, such as Japan, males and females are similarly active. But in countries with greater activity disparity, such as Saudi Arabia and the United States, females were much less likely to walk.
The researchers say using anonymous data from smartphones is an “immensely powerful tool” for conducting this kind of research.
Almost three-quarters of adults in developed countries and half of adults in developing economies carry smartphones, which are typically equipped with accelerometers that can record stepping motions.
The authors say there might have been gender and age differences that affected how often certain users carried their phones. And, because the phones collected data only when they were on the subjects' person, the research may have failed to capture time spent in other fitness activities where it is impractical to carry a phone, such as swimming.