Eli's Coming. Keep Up With Him.

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If you're sitting down while reading this, get up.

Inactivity continues to plague adults and children, who spend an increasing amount of time seated at computer screens, sprawled in front of television sets and commuting long distances to work and school.

Even in their off hours, Americans are often sedentary. Less than a third of adults engage in regular leisure-time activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adolescents don't do much better. Just 25 percent of high school students are moderately active for 30 minutes per day, according to acting U.S. Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, "and that's only half the time recommended. We've got to do better than that."

To help reverse this trend, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has tapped New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning to kick off the National President's Challenge, which encourages all Americans to move more. It runs from March 20 to May 15.

How active should you be? Thirty minutes per day for adults, at least five days a week; 60 minutes per day for those ages 6 to 17, also at least five days weekly. Online registration runs until April 3 at http://www.presidentschallenge.org.

Enter solo or team up with family members, friends and co-workers. Or join the Lean Plate Club group, ID number 69734, which already includes Howard Schneider of the Misfits.

No need to go to the gym, either. The President's Challenge site lists more than 100 activities that can count toward the daily goal, from gardening to walking the dog.

"This challenge is for everybody, whether they are deconditioned and sedentary all the way up to the super athletes," said Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President's Council. "We believe that there is an activity for everyone to enjoy."

While the program extends over eight weeks, there's some wiggle room built in for the inevitable slip-ups. This means that to meet the challenge, you have to be active for only six of the weeks.

Studies show "that those who engage in anything for six weeks are more likely to make it part of their lifestyle and a habit," Johnson says. "Our hope is that people will continue being active once the challenge ends because they will realize how good they feel."

Fitting in regular exercise can be a challenge even for some of the well-known athletes who are members of the President's Council. Once their athletic careers end, many say they struggle to incorporate regular workouts into busy lives.

"It becomes increasingly difficult to get time in for myself in light of the demands from work and family," notes Dot Richardson, a former Olympic softball player. So Richardson walks 30 minutes daily on a home treadmill and takes her dogs for daily jogs. "It becomes a better workout for me and the dogs by taking the walk to a jogging level," she writes in a blog entry on the President's Challenge Web site.

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is one way that Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton keeps active. "Before I know it, I have accumulated 30 minutes of cardio without much effort," she notes in her blog on the site.

And if you still have excuses for why you can't be more active, take inspiration from President's Council member Kirk Bauer. He's an above-the-knee amputee who just turned 60 and is executive director of Disabled Sports USA. In addition to skiing, bicyling, walking and swimming, he also water-skis and plays golf.

"To get my exercise at work, I walk nearly every day to a local grocery store to get lunch. The round trip is about 15 minutes," he observes on the Challenge Web site. At home, Bauer rides a stationary bike for at least another 15 minutes and then does 100 push-ups and sit-ups.

As he notes, "It is important that no matter what your disability, you can be active."

So how about it? Join me in taking the National President's Challenge. Post updates about your progress in the Lean Plate Club discussion group at http://www.leanplateclub.com/group.

Or join me today from 1 to 2 p.m. for the Lean Plate Club Web chat at http://www.leanplateclub.com, where you can also subscribe to the free, weekly Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. E-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Ready to get started? Check out the Misfits' Cherry Blossom Trail Challenge on Page F3 in today's Health section.

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