Warning: That couch is dangerous Surgeon general's report: Lack of exercise may be killing us.

July 21, 1996

THERE ARE plenty of people who thrive on Americans' good intentions -- just imagine how crowded health clubs would be if everyone who joined actually showed up on a regular basis. Paying for a membership, donning running shoes or even buying exercise machines is not enough. It's the sweat that counts.

And now, just in case we didn't know, we have an official surgeon general's report to tell us that the couch-potato life, however tempting, is bad for our health. Americans need more exercise. That's not the only message. The report points out that activity levels are a better indicator of fitness than weight. In a culture obsessed with slimness, it's worth reminding ourselves that an active plump person may be in better shape than someone who is thin but sedentary.

Neither does a fit person have to have a rigid schedule of intense exercise, such as regular aerobics classes or a long jog several days a week. In fact, one of the most useful messages of this report might be that even people "too busy" for formal exercise programs can find plenty of ways to be more active. Stretching while watching television, taking stairs rather than elevators, choosing a parking place that requires a longer walk, or even taking several two-minute walks each day -- these simple things don't require much time, but they can significantly increase the level of daily activity.

This approach to exercise is gaining favor all around. There was a time when such groups as the American Heart Association embraced the idea of high-intensity work-outs at least three times a week. Now, such recommendations have been modified to reflect a better understanding of the benefits of more moderate exercise on a daily basis.

Despite our fascination with athletic competition, human beings have been intent on finding ways to avoid physical labor since before the invention of the wheel. The surgeon general's report reflects the success of those efforts. Wisely, it takes that age-old preference for avoiding strenuous work into account by publicizing the value of simple, moderate exercise.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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