Why America is Overweight, Part II: Inactivity


Inactivity beckons. As more and more manufacturing jobs leave our country, our workplace has become more sedentary. We sit at computers for hours; we don’t even have to leave our seats to hand out a memo or send a file. We telecommute – don’t even need to walk to our cars or work. We never have to run to catch a ringing phone – our phones are attached to our bodies, always with us. We can shop from the comfort of our laptops – no more slogging through the mall unless we really want to. Our children sit for much of the school day. In many places recess and gym have been eliminated, to accommodate decreasing funds and more didactics. Once at home, over 100 TV channels beckon. We sit at our computers again, surfing the web, catching up on Facebook and email (yes, I’m guilty too).  Americans are becoming more and more a sedentary people. It is estimated that over half of American adults do not engage in any regular physical activity.  http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3040447

Statistically we are becoming heavier, with this inactivity creep contributing to our collective overweight. In recent years experts have recommended ways to combat inactivity. You’ve all read these pithy articles in the magazines and the health section of the paper. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far side of the parking lot, take 10 minute breaks at your desk to stretch, do Yoga or Pilates. Instead of sitting in front of the TV, play active games like Wi Fit or Dance, Dance Revolution. These short bursts of activity are thought to help compensate for some of our inactivity. They also help relieve fatiguing postures, vary our routines, keep us mentally alert, improve circulation and muscle tone. Some say that accumulated bursts of short activity contribute to aerobic fitness and prevent weight gain. http://www.fitsugar.com/You-Asked-Short-Bursts-Exercise-Beneficial-817711  This varies greatly for individuals and is influenced by factors such as baseline fitness level, lean muscle mass, caloric intake and other activity levels. Most experts agree that adding short bursts of activity throughout the day at worst does not hurt, and at best, helps offset instances of inactivity. 

If you do an online search on exercise recommendations, you’ll find most are recommending 30 minutes of aerobic, aka heart-pumping activity 5-7 days of the week.  Guidelines vary with age and ability; you can find more information by clicking on this link: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200013 The 30 minutes per day recommendation is for maintaining fitness. For weight loss, the recommendation is 45-60 minutes of exercise, at a level intense enough to burn 400-500 calories per session 5-7 days of the week. To maintain weight, you again need 45-60 minutes of exercise 5-7 days a week, but not quite as intense as for weight loss. More info here: http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=24521&sc=806 

In reality, this level of exercise is difficult to maintain.  For those not currently exercising at this level, it will require a change in lifestyle to fit this into our schedules. This may take some time and gradual adjustments to our routines, and require giving up something else we’re doing to make it all fit.

Take the exercise quiz:  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/phy_act.htm#1true. Do an online search of exercise and activity recommendations. Tailor your plan to fit your age, ability and any physical limitations you have. Figure out what you need to do to get moving.  Post your comments to share what is working for you.

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5 thoughts on “Why America is Overweight, Part II: Inactivity

    • Thanks for your comment, Dave. Although 5-7 days a week is recommended, a lot of people seem to have success with 4-5 days, and it’s much more doable. I think a rest day is important, especially if you’re training towards building muscle, although we often don’t see that mentioned in current recommendations

  1. Healthcare plans should provide a financial incentive to participate in physical activity. Our county plan used to provide a $50 rebate for annual participation in one of the physical activity programs (i.e. 30 Minutes a Day for 30 Days). Unfortunately, not enough county employees took part for the program to be a success, though I certainly did. I was already walking 3 miles a day in the mornings, so an extra $50 was certainly welcome. Even though it may not have helped overall, I still think that a financial incentive is the way to go.

    • I think incentives may motivate some to stick with their exercise plans, but might be difficult for employers to monitor. In most cases they would have to rely on the honor system.

  2. Pingback: Finally – some help on my one woman war against cheese | Huffygirl's Blog

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