Therapeutic Recreation & Sustainable Weight Management: (Avoiding Extremes)

By Dixon, Jesse | Palaestra, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Therapeutic Recreation & Sustainable Weight Management: (Avoiding Extremes)


Dixon, Jesse, Palaestra


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Professionals who promote therapeutic recreation services promote healthy lifestyles and activities (Cordes & Ibrahim, 2003). Weight management is an issue for many Americans and people in other nations (Heyward, 2010). This article recognizes the role of nutritional strategies for weight management. However, this author is suggesting that activity professionals can play significant roles in helping patients and clients with weight management through nutrition practices plus the use of leisure and recreation-based activities (Cordes & Ibrahim, 2003). Although prescriptive (exercise) activity programs may achieve weight loss for both children and adults, the regular use of activity within a lifestyle is a more effective approach for sustained weight management (Cloud, 2009; Heyward, 2010).

Weight-Management as a Threat to Lifestyle

In the U.S., 34% of adults are obese, and 3-out-of-4 adults are overweight. Since 1980, the number of overweight children in America has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled (Heyward, 2010). Obesity and excess body weight are linked to health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers (Jackson, Morrow, Hill, & Dishman, 2004). Unfortunately, many people who try to address weight management with activity fail to sustain activity levels as part of a lifestyle (Heyward, 2010). Future projections for prevalence of weight management problems are expected to increase without an organized effort to address weight management effectively.

Nutrition Alone and Nutrition Plus Activity for Weight Management

A healthy diet is essential to successful and sustained weight management (Heyward, 2010). Individuals who effectively lose weight create a daily caloric expenditure that exceeds the daily intake of calories (negative energy balance). Although there are proponents for diet alone (Cloud, 2009), other authors advocate the use of activity programs to supplement nutritional strategies for effective weight management (Heyward, 2010; Jackson, Morrow, Hill, & Dishman, 2004). This article is intended to support activity professionals who work with patients and clients addressing weight management.

Sustainable Versus Extreme Activity

Weight management efforts can sometimes result in intense sessions of activity and feelings of personal sacrifice for participants without effective results for weight loss (Cloud, 2009). The unfortunate result of "yo-yo" changes in weight coupled with intense efforts by participants for weight loss may discourage participants from integrating activity into a daily routine (Cloud, 2009). One perspective to consider with activity programs is the difference between sustainable and extreme activity programs. The concept of extreme activities is not limited to lifestyle. Gross (2010) points out that society is seeing the negative results of extreme activity in the environment, the economy, and risks to health. For examples, drilling for oil thousands of feet below the ocean water surface, financial transactions with little or no security, and popular fast-foods with high caloric trade offs present risks that have to be reconciled with short-term gains or convenience.

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For the purposes of this article, extreme activities will have the characteristic of being unsustainable due to risk factors such as loss, damage, illness, or inconvenience. Cloud (2009) uses the term extreme to refer to activity programs that are too high in time or energy demands and discourage participants from continuation of behavior due to injury or discomfort. Therapeutic recreation professionals who want to help children or adult clients address body weight issues will want to balance weight-loss enthusiasm with capacities for sustained activity. In short, weight-management activities in therapeutic recreation are likely to be successful if the activity level is sustainable as part of a long-term lifestyle approach (Heyward, 2010). …

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