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Obesity and Sedentary Death Syndrome: The Number One Killer, Pt. 2

In spite of the knowledge of the relationship between exercise and health, a new survey found that most Americans think they’re fine just as they are and can live with being fat and getting too little exercise.

A poll for the health club industry found 74 percent of respondents saying they were generally satisfied with their health. But separate federal figures say 55 percent of Americans are too fat, and that more than 60 percent do not get enough physical activity regularly to benefit their health.

“It appears as though the accepted norm has shifted to an overweight person who does not exercise,” said the International Health, Racquet and Sports club Association, which commissioned the survey. “Most Americans are satisfied with their health yet are most likely overweight.”

The Roper Starch Worldwide survey attempted to understand America’s thinking on exercise — why some people work out and others don’t. It found a range of attitudes, from exercise believers who get big mental and physical benefits from their workouts to couch potatoes who think exercise is just a passing fad. The report groups attitudes into six profiles, with the opinions of the rest — about one in five — being too diverse to categorize.

Three of the groups tended to be non-exercisers.

About 14 percent were termed Abracadabras because they wish there were a magic pill that could give them the benefit of exercise without having to do the work. “They don’t think it’s a waste of time, but they don’t seem to feel a whole lot of guilt about not exercising,” said Roper Starch research director Geoffrey Feinberg. Many are middle-aged moms who say they don’t have the time, he said.

The Woulda-Shouldas, 12 percent, can’t commit to a fitness routine, the study said. “They know they should exercise, but they have trouble getting motivated,” Feinberg said. “They feel kind of bad about it.”

Another 13 percent were termed Sitcom Skeptics. The survey found this group viewed exercise as unnecessary, and therefore was unlikely to do it regularly.

Sitcom Skeptics will be hard to reach with the exercise message, but Woulda-Shouldas could be tempted, Feinberg said. “If they can somehow become aware that they would feel so much better in so many respects if they would exercise, I think that would appeal to them,” he said.

IHRSA’s research director William C. Howland, Jr. is interested in targeting the Abracadabras. He thinks these time-pressured people might respond better if they looked at exercise’s more immediate benefits, such as stress reduction, increased energy and better sleep.

Other segments realize the benefits of exercise — and do it. About 13 percent, termed Balanced Holistics, believe fitness not only helps their bodies, it gives them a more positive attitude toward life. Eight percent who are Conscientious Preventors focus on the health and medical benefits. These include a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as improvements in weight control. And Social Competitors, who are 20 percent, are young risk-takers who say their activities bring them friends and fun.

However, even though the fitness community has work ahead of it in getting more people to exercise, IHRSA President Joe Cirulli thinks it has some successes to look back upon. “I started lifting weights when I was 9 and when I was in high school, I was known as ‘the weight lifter’,” said Cirulli, who owns two clubs in Gainesville, Florida. “Now, when I walk in, I see thousands of people lifting weights and exercising. You go back 30 years, the people who worked out regularly were ‘the health nuts’.”

I agree that obesity is one of the major public health challenges of the coming century. But I disagree when they say that to really do something about it, we need a public health approach. If we really believe that we have to wait for a public health approach to solve this problem, then we are missing the point. A public health approach would be beneficial in providing public support and a framework to transform our society into a healthier one. But the real transformation and change must come from within — from within each and every one of us. No public health initiative, program or directive can do that. No social/public program can force you to eat right and/or exercise every day.

We have everything we need right now to achieve “Optimum” health. We don’t have to wait for the food industry and all their scientists to invent or discover some miracle food. It exists already. The miracle food is fresh fruits and vegetables.

And we don’t have to join some sparkling, new gym, or buy some fancy elaborate gym equipment or hire a personal trainer to start exercising and get into shape. All we need is to get off our butts and start moving and walking. Add in a few simple calisthenics and we can be on our way to fitness.

But, this motivation/desire/effort has to come from within. There is no external solution to this problem. The problem isn’t “out there” and neither is the solution. No one can do it for us. And remember, this isn’t just about physical health. Eating right and exercise is essential for optimal health which includes physical, mental and spiritual well-being. We deserve nothing less than the best.

In Health, Jeff

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