Having trouble fitting physical activity into your busy day? You're not alone. A recent survey conducted by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) found that only one-quarter of adults in the U.S. meets the CDC's activity recommendations. Close to half of those surveyed got some, but not enough activity. Even with gyms popping up in every town and exercise tapes abounding, activity levels stayed the same between 1990 and 1998. "It may be that a lot of physical activity has been engineered out of our daily lives," notes Carol Macera, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in CDC's Physical Activity and Health Branch.
As part of its survey, the CDC randomly telephoned adults across the United States and questioned them about their physical activity: which activities they did most often, how often they exercised, and for how long. The more than 50 different activities on the CDC's list included walking, bicycling, and a handful of household activities like woodworking, wallpapering and mowing the lawn. Respondents met the CDC's recommendations if they reported getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times a week or of vigorous activity three times weekly. Most Americans missed the mark. However, Dr. Macera points out that CDC did not ask people about their lifestyle-related activities like walking from, say, the supermarket to the drug store, so it could be that we are a tad more active than the survey showed. Needless to say, the growing prevalence of obesity in the US is a reminder that we're not active enough.
Getting too little physical activity increases your risk of being overweight and of developing chronic diseases. According to the CDC, regular physical activity reduces your risk of dying of heart disease, and of developing colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It also helps you control your weight; maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints; and lessen your anxiety levels. Conversely, lack of exercise in combination with a poor diet is thought to be the second highest cause of death (after smoking) in the U.S.
The CDC's guidelines combine several different government recommendations to improve heart health as well as overall health. "Not everyone can do vigorous activity, which is good for your heart, but most can handle moderate levels that boost general fitness," says Dr. Macera.
Gwen Stern, creator of Motivate Me! Fitness tapes (www.motivatemefitness.com) and a practicing sports attorney, offers strategies and suggestions for increasing your activity level:
- Take a look at your current activity level, including both sports and lifestyle activities. It may not take much more to meet the CDC's recommendations.
- Find an activity buddy who has the same exercise goals as you do.
- Exercise with people who are at or slightly above your level - you'll be more motivated.
- Make a "no excuses or cancellations" policy for yourself and with your activity buddies. If you get into the habit of canceling, you'll get out of the habit of exercising.
- Set attainable, reasonable goals for yourself, for example, increasing your activity from two times per week to three. If you reach too high - going from twice weekly to five times weekly - you may get discouraged if you don't make it.
- Schedule activity into your daily routine. Coordinate with family members so that you can be there for them when they need you, but also can have time to yourself. Tell family, friends, and colleagues that you are not available during those hours.
- Place physical activity in the same category as brushing your hair and teeth--something you do as a routine part of your day. --Mindy Hermann