The findings are grim. It makes me wonder how enlightened we've actually become about our personal health. There's so much we can do on our own to stay healthy, yet a lot of people still don't realize the importance of the messages they read and hear about taking better care of themselves. This was especially evident following this month's release of the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. The acting surgeon general, Audrey Manley, has declared physical inactivity a "serious nationwide public health problem," which is why an article I read recently in the Chicago Tribune concerning the study made we wonder just how concerned the nation is about reducing healthcare costs when many Americans won't even take responsibility for their own well-being.
Most of us know many diseases are preventable. And with the release of the surgeon general's report, the federal government is trying to educate people about what is at stake. Let me share a few of the statistics from the article to provide some perspective. Some 13.5 million Americans have coronary heart disease; 60% of American adults don't get the recommended amount of physical activity, and nearly 25% aren't active at all; close to one-third of adults are obese, meaning they're more than 20% above their healthy body weight; 8 million have adult-onset diabetes; 50 million are living with high blood pressure; and 95,000 have been diagnosed with colon cancer. The study shows how regular physical exercise can prevent or at least curtail these diseases, along with the premature death and disability they can cause. Of course, another big payoff would be a major reduction in healthcare costs. So, while the report paints a picture of a nation somewhat out of shape, the news isn't necessarily all bad.
Naturally, the first question has to be: What amount of activity is necessary to achieve some semblance of physical fitness? The study offers guidelines for those who are essentially starting from scratch. A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day would be a good way to get started. The formula proposed for sedentary people is expending 1,000 calories per week, or about 150 a day. What are some ways to do that? Washing floors or windows for 45 minutes to an hour; playing a leisurely game of volleyball for 45 minutes; raking leaves for 30 minutes or shoveling snow for 15 minutes; or walking 13/4 miles at a 20-minutes-per-mile pace. You get the idea.
Obviously many of us already have learned the dangers of inactivity and are getting regular exercise. According to the article, about 15% of adults engage in regular physical activity about three times a week for 20 minutes at a time. And close to 22% work out at least five times a week for 30 minutes "in sustained physical activity of any intensity." There's ample proof that those who work out even moderately have lower mortality rates compared with those who are inactive and aren't even trying to change their bad habits. The evidence also indicates that those of us who are moderately active increase our chances of avoiding certain cancers.
Exercise offers all sorts of benefits, but there's also a footnote. The report indicates many of those benefits diminish within two weeks if physical activity is reduced. And the effects disappear if physical activity isn't resumed within two to eight months. That means discipline and commitment must be part of any regimen. All it takes is the ability to get off one's duff and give it a try.
Start out slowly,
Charles S. Lauer