Focus on fitness

"Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that lack of physical activity is hazardous to your health." Sound a little far-fetched? Maybe not. After cigarette smoking, lack of physical activity is the leading preventable cause of heart disease in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Surgeon General is also taking this news to heart. To promote the recently-released Report on Physical Activity and Health, consideration is being given to placing such a label on exercise equipment. Approximately 140 sporting goods manufacturers have already voluntarily agreed to put labels on products or promote the message in advertisements.

We know it's important, but just how does physical activity "figure" into our lifestyles?

*According to the recently-released Surgeon General's report on physical activity, more than 60 percent of Americans do not engage in the recommended amount of physical activity, and approximately 25 percent of U.S. adults are not active at all. Significant health benefits can be seen simply by accumulating a daily half hour of moderately intense activity.

*A USA Today survey found that "not enough time" is the number one reason why people do not exercise, followed by "it's not fun," "health reasons" and "I don't know how to start." Primary reasons to exercise included "health benefits," "improved appearance," "it makes me feel good," "stress reduction" and "following my doctor's advice."

*Where are the most active people? Living on the west coast, according to a survey conducted by the CDC. The most active state is Oregon, with 35.7 percent of its adults reporting regular exercise, followed by New Mexico (35.4 percent) and Wyoming (35.1). The most sedentary adults live in Washington, D.C. (no jokes allowed), where only 16 percent said they exercise regularly.

*The most popular activity in the country is fitness walking, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Some 71.2 million of us are out pumping our arms and legs regularly.

*Staying active and fit while traveling is getting easier. Guests staying at some of the country's most well-known hotels --select Hilton's, Sheratons and Holiday Inns, to name a few--can ring up room service and have a NordicTrack or WalkFit treadmill delivered to their rooms. Traveling on Northwest Airlines? Passengers on flights lasting four hours or longer can unwind to "In Flight Airobics," a video showing stretches and exercises that can be done while seated.

*Physical inactivity is more common among women than men, although according to the NPD Group, a trend tracking firm, women outspent men on athletic shoes in 1995 for the second year in a row, spending an estimated $6.2 billion. Consumers bought a total of 344 million pairs of athletic footwear in 1995.

*According to the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 35 percent of high school students watch at least three hours of television every day, time which would be better spent being active. Nearly half of American youths aged 12-21 are not active on a regular basis, and about 14 percent of young people report no recent physical activity, according to the Surgeon General's report.

Colleen Doyle is a senior associate faculty member, Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public Health. Have a topic you'd like to read - or write - about? Call Colleen at 727-4374 or e-mail her at doyle@sph.emory.edu.

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