The nation's First Jogger wants more Americans to exercise, so he asked the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports to find ways to get people moving.
The council's resulting report, released this month, reveals that a majority of adults now exercise vigorously at least twice a week, but nearly 43 percent are less active. Most of these "less active" Americans say they'd like to exercise more but are unable to find time -- although 84 percent watch television at least three hours per week.
"People recognize the benefits of exercise, but they just won't do it," says council spokesman Phillip Wiethorn. "They're too tired, too lazy, too busy." Judging by the amount of TV watched, he says, "they have time -- but won't make time for exercise. People always say, 'I'll do it next week,' but they'll never say, 'I'll brush my teeth next week.' "
Women and lower-income Americans account for a disproportionate number of those who are "less active," although low levels of activity are found throughout the population. Most of those in this group are under age 45, and 46 percent have attended college.
Family, friends and employers could get these people moving, states the report, "American Attitudes Toward Physical Activity and Fitness." Sixty-four percent said they'd exercise more if a friend or relative worked out with them; 58 percent said they'd exercise if their employer paid the cost of a fitness center, 56 percent would work out if they got time off during the work day for exercise and 55 percent said they'd exercise if there were an athletic facility at work.
Doctors also could help them get moving, but only 31 percent of the "less active" say they've been told by a health professional to be more active. And most report being motivated more by a desire for the benefits of exercise than fear of the dangers of inactivity. "You can't scare people into exercising," Wiethorn says.
But an encouraging finding showed that only 11 percent of those who shun vigorous exercise are totally sedentary. Most say they engage in 30 minutes of low-level exercise at least once a week, with 36 percent performing "light physical activity -- such as walking, household chores or yard work" -- six to seven days a week.
Low to moderate activity can make a major contribution to health, notes John Duncan, director of exercise physiology at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. "You don't have to change your clothes, huff and puff or set aside a block of 30 to 60 minutes to exercise," says Duncan, whose study published in 1991 in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that sedentary women who began walking regularly, even at a strolling pace, lowered their risk of heart disease. "Walking 15 to 20 minutes, four or five days a week, is all you need. And weaving physical activity into your day, by taking the stairs or walking an extra block, benefits your health."
While finding time to exercise can be particularly tough during the busy holiday season, it's critical to keep active to offset the extra eating and high levels of stress. "The holidays are a good time to rethink our definition of exercise," says Montreal sports psychologist James Gavin, author of "The Exercise Habit." "We tend to look at exercise as something we do somewhere else -- like the gym or the track -- and it eliminates other opportunities for movement."
So if you can't find time for your regular workout, don't burrow into the couch with an eggnog and a fistful of cookies. Seize any chance to get moving. For example:
Turn on the music and dance. Invite older relatives to teach you their moves -- from folk dance to swing.
Carry in groceries one bag at a time, instead of juggling four at once.
Take a family walk and bring along a ball to toss.
Go skating, shoveling, sledding, raking, biking, hiking.
Try "aerobic shopping." Walk a lap or two around the mall or grocery store before you start buying.
Take a minute whenever possible to stretch and breathe.
Next week: Eating Right examines the wide range of choices that milk drinkers have today.
Satisfied as is...12%
SOURCE: President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.