The play's the thing for good health

Eating Well

July 16, 1996|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

When was the last time you had some fun playing physical games with your kids, grandkids or even your neighbors' kids? Remember yard games like dodge ball, SPUD, red rover, croquet, horseshoes, badminton and just plain tag? How long has it been since you walked to the store for an ice cream cone, or rode your bike to get the morning paper?

In the world of "everything old is new again," playing with kids will make a comeback if the surgeon general has anything to say about it.

The just-released Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health has some encouraging things to say about the benefits of joyous movement, and some frightening facts about our resistance to taking advantage of it.

The report is focused on disease prevention, and reports primarily on the benefits of endurance activity (walking, cycling, lawn mowing, leaf raking) because it has been studied extensively, and the body of accumulated knowledge offers some clear-cut answers about its benefits. The report also acknowledges the growing awareness of the role of resistance training (weight lifting, child lifting, grocery lifting) in maintaining strength, improving mobility and preventing falls in older adults.

The report smoothly settles the debate between high-intensity athletes who think only Olympic-style training will do, and those sighing in relief over the idea that 30 minutes of any kind of accumulated activity is quite enough.

The surgeon general's report agrees with both. "Physical activity need not be of vigorous intensity for it to improve health. Moreover, health benefits appear to be proportional to the amount of activity; thus, every increase in activity adds some benefit."

Importantly, the report acknowledges the nutrition-physical activity connection, saying, "In particular, nutritional habits are linked to some of the same aspects of health as physical activity, and the two may be related lifestyle characteristics."

In the face of ever-increasing numbers of obese children and adults, and the finally-becoming-obvious connection between too much available food and too little available activity, the report's major conclusions are quite chilling. In short, we know that physical activity is essential to our physical, medical and emotional well-being, yet participation in school-based physical education classes has dropped dramatically, and adults are not active enough to serve as appropriate role models for their own kids.

Clearly, a call to action is in order. Once you get moving, being active is fun! You'll love it, and your kids will love it, too. Spend quality time with kids, and get a double bang for your buck: increased energy now, and better health for all of you in the years to come.

After you take a minute to read the major conclusions of the surgeon general's report, pop on your Nikes and go out to play!

People of all ages, both male and female, benefit from regular physical activity.

Significant health benefits can be obtained by including a moderate amount of physical activity (e.g., 30 minutes of brisk walking or raking leaves, 15 minutes of running, or 45 minutes of playing volleyball) on most, if not all, days of the week. Through a modest increase in daily activity, most Americans can improve their health and quality of life.

Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity. People who can maintain a regular regimen of activity that is of longer duration or of more vigorous intensity are likely to derive greater benefit.

Physical activity reduces the risk of premature death in general, and of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer and diabetes mellitus in particular. Physical activity also improves mental health and is important for the health of muscles, bones and joints.

More than 60 percent of American adults are not regularly physically active.

In fact, 25 percent of all adults are not active at all.

Nearly half of American youths 12-21 years of age are not vigorously active on a regular basis. Moreover, physical activity declines dramatically during adolescence.

Daily enrollment in physical education classes has declined among high school students from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995.

Research on understanding and promoting physical activity is at an early stage, but some interventions to promote physical activity through schools, work sites and health-care settings have been evaluated and found to be successful.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at PTC the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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