After five years of studying the scientific literature on fitness and health, wading through countless government reports, interviewing experts and trying every form of exercise I could, it’s pretty sobering to realize that the entire endeavor can be reduced to two words:
I’m serious. If you’re reading this sitting down, stand up. When you’re done, go for a walk. Dance. Run. Jump. Ride a bike. Swim. Do some yoga. Do gymnastics. Play basketball. Play softball. Play tennis. Wrestle. Skate.
Do something — for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, if you’re an adult.
It doesn’t matter how old you are. Or how out of shape. Or, usually, whether you have other infirmities, including arthritis or cardiovascular problems.
When I joined Vicky Hallett in writing this column nearly five years ago, I knew, of course, that we had a serious national health problem caused, in part, by the simple fact that we no longer move our bodies the way nature intended. A third of U.S. adults, including me, are overweight. Another 35.7 percent are obese. And 6.3 percent are extremely obese.
Folks, that doesn’t leave many of us in the healthy category.
You can quibble with the Body Mass Index, which, as I’ve said before, was probably devised by the same people who calculate how much money you’re going to need in retirement. You can, and should, eat healthfully, minimizing your intake of fats and sugars and loading up on vegetables and whole grains. You definitely need a consistently good night’s sleep.
But in the end, those aren’t as critical as getting some exercise. Mortality rates from all causes decline sharply as people become more fit, according to studies, even when age, smoking habits, cholesterol level, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and parental history of heart disease are taken into account.
And, yes, diligence about exercise isn’t enough if you’re seated in front of a computer all day, as I am. One of the more startling moments of the past five years came when I started to read the research on the number of hours many of us spend sedentary. It turns out that is endangering our health, too. Of course, this affects your cardiovascular system, but a study just last month showed that for people 60 and older, each hour per day spent sitting increases your chances of disability significantly.
Very recently, there have been signs of progress, especially among children. None is more encouraging than last week’s government report that showed a 43 percent decline in the obesity rate for kids ages 2 to 5. But the same data showed that overall obesity rates were unchanged, and for women older than 60, they rose 21 percent.
So, as I said, just move.
Why have I picked today to be so annnoooyyying, as my 16-year-old would put it? This is my last MisFits column. Soon, I’m going to debut a new health, wellness and fitness blog for The Post, an opportunity to extend my nagging to your overall well-being, not just your physical fitness. I’ll continue to write about that frequently, of course, but someone else will pick up here.
Which gives me one last chance to emphasize the two concepts I hope you’ve taken from my five years in this job:
If I can do it, you can do it. I’m 55, slow, generally unathletic and, as I said, overweight. It doesn’t matter. I’ve run 50 miles, biked to work, rappelled down a building and tried out to be a Nationals’ Racing President, to name a few of my efforts. Yes, The Post was paying me a modest sum to do so. But really all it takes is commitment and perseverance.
The more amazing takeaway is that in your neighborhood, maybe right on your block, ordinary people are doing some extraordinary things to keep themselves fit. I’ve got to start with Ray Clark, the 102-year-old gym rat I interviewed last year, and his 70-year-old physical trainer, Thom Hunter. Then there was 70-year-old Dan Durante, destroying all challengers in two pull-up contests. Frank Fumich, completing a Triple Ironman on a five-mile stretch of asphalt. Ed Keller, running a 6:14 marathon on a high school track in 89-degree heat. The 20 men and one woman who completed the 12-hour, overnight GoRuck challenge. The women who play basketball each week without keeping score. And Prince of Petworth blogger Dan Silverman, who walks 50 miles a week.
There are many more, too many to mention, whose efforts deserve our admiration and imitation. But from all of them, the lesson is the same.
@postmisfits on Twitter
Also at washingtonpost.com Read past columns by Bernstein and Vicky Hallett at washingtonpost.com/wellness . There, you can subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter to get health news e-mailed to you every Wednesday.