The association between physical activity and decreased risk of morbidity and mortality has been well-documented.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans agree that exercise is good for their health, and 70 percent report that they exercise regularly. But after years of inaccurately reporting these positive physical activity trends based on self-reported surveys, a large study was conducted in 2007 that measured physical activity using laboratory equipment in a field-based setting. The results were rather disappointing but not the least bit surprising. Based on this data, it is estimated that fewer than 5 percent of adults are actually meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines.
We've been promoting physical activity for years. The surgeon general released the earliest report on physical activity along with the first recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Sports Medicine in 1996. In 2008 the first formal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were released by the CDC (to complement the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans). It has been more than 15 years since the release of that first report. Despite these and other efforts, physical inactivity remains a pressing public health issue. It seems the hard push to increase physical activity has yielded poor results. We are still not active. So where is the disconnect?
We can partially blame technology, which has reduced the energy needs for activities of daily living. We have become efficient fuel burners. We email, text and make phone calls simply by reaching into our pockets. There is no need to answer the phone in the other room or walk down the hall to talk to a co-worker. Important information can be obtained on smart phones or computers using the Internet, and we never have to leave our chairs.
Eco-friendly carwashes and desert landscapes translate to fewer chores (if only my laundry could fold itself and walk to the closet). Even the hundreds of cable channels offer numerous sedentary options. I can participate in "The Amazing Race" right from my couch, watch "The Biggest Loser" over a big bowl of ice cream or just leave the dancing to the stars.
The problem is bigger than just the efficient way we live our daily lives. The real problem is we don't know how to have fun anymore. Did you know that one in four American adults reports no leisure-time physical activity? Leisure time (non-working hours) in America was constant until 1996 and has steadily declined ever since.
Longer work days and second jobs are certainly important for financial survival in the 21st century, but leisure activity isn't just child's play. It is necessary for improving health, decreasing risk for disease, increasing physical activity adherence, reducing stress and boosting social networking. Twitter and Facebook are for the "weak of heart."
Being active shouldn't have to feel like another chore. It should be a nice break from the mundane strains of life. Give yourself permission and get out there and play. After all, leisure and fun lay the foundation for becoming more active.
There are so many things to do out there. Whatever you choose, make sure it's fun, and take a family member or friend along with you. Be sure to schedule recreation and relaxation into your calendar. Work and other commitments are already there. Why not also schedule the fun? It's just as important and you deserve it.
Anne R. Lindsay is an assistant professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.