Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Fitting Fitness into Your Life

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Fitting Fitness into Your Life

Article excerpt

Do you have a half-hour a day to watch television? Unfortunately, most Americans have more than enough time to sit and watch TV. That sedentary lifestyle, quite literally, is killing us. Some studies suggest that as many as 250,000 deaths a year are caused by a lack of regular exercise. But in a report issued in February 1995 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine, an expert panel stressed that if adults took just 30 minutes a day for moderate physical activity, they would reap significant health benefits.

"You can make a very strong claim that people that accumulate 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity lower their risk of chronic disease," said Dr. James Rippe, associate professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the CDC/ACSM panel. That means cutting the risk of coronary heart disease, as well as colon cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension and depression.

Physical Activity. Unlike previous fitness prescriptions, the panel made a point of focusing on physical activity, not exercise, as the key to improved health. "Exercise, particularly for sedentary people, tends to conjure up negative images - being sore, sweating, being out of breath," said Rippe. "By telling people to exercise, particularly at certain target heart rates, we had tapped into that reservoir of potentially negative feelings. People had made absolutely the wrong decision, which was to be sedentary. We wanted to make a slight distinction between exercise and physical activity - physical activity being a little less structured, a little less intense."

The panel also stressed that it was the accumulation of activity over the course of the day that made the difference. "What matters most is the total amount of energy that you expend in physical activity," said Russ Pate, Ph.D., chairman, Department of Exercise Science, University of South Carolina. In other words, you can piece together meaningful activity over the course of a day, rather than set aside a single 30-minute "exercise period." The 30-minute standard, Pate explained, can be met, for example, by a brisk 10-minute walk back and forth from your car to your office and then walking the dog in the evening, or mowing the lawn, or playing with the kids in the park.

What constitutes moderate physical activity? A brisk walk (i.e. 3-4 mph) is a favorite example, particularly since walking is inexpensive and convenient. Other examples range from traditional exercise choices such as cycling and swimming to common activities such as housework, gardening and raking leaves. "They have to be done at a moderate level - not so that you're out of breath but so that you may be lightly perspiring," said Rippe.

For an otherwise healthy adult, this moderate physical activity does not require a doctor's approval. "At that level - a moderately brisk walk - unless you have something that is really worrying you or a chronic condition where you need medical advice, it's probably safe to do it on your own," said Rippe. "If you have any significant concerns about safety, then you should consult with your physician."

Never Too Late. The benefits of exercise extend to seniors as well as younger adults. Rippe said a major study showed that people over the age of 65 who became regularly physically active lowered their risk of diabetes and heart disease. "At the age of 65, a person has an 80 percent chance of reaching the age of 80, so risk factor reduction is not irrelevant to a 65-year old," said Rippe, author of the forthcoming "Fitness Over Forty" (William Morrow). …

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