Feature Articles Exercise
Physical activity lowers health risks
Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag
University of Missouri, firstname.lastname@example.org
A University of Missouri-Columbia nutrition specialist said physical activity is the forgotten part of the equation in achieving a healthy lifestyle and weight management.
“People need to think about being active every day the same
way they think every day about brushing their teeth,” said Ellen
Schuster, co-coordinator for the MU Extension Family Nutrition
Education Program. “We focus a whole lot on the food component
more than physical activity. It’s easier to talk about food.”
Schuster said people who are sedentary are missing out on the
host of benefits that come from physical activity, including
lowering their risk of chronic diseases, reducing stress and
“The research shows that it doesn’t take a whole lot of
activity to have positive effects,” she said.
Midwesterners are the most sedentary people in the nation,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2001, the
CDC reported that 60 percent of Missouri adults do not get
enough activity to provide health benefits.
Researchers believe a sedentary lifestyle is contributing to
the growing number of overweight and obese children and adults.
Among adults, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior
Services estimates that obesity is a risk factor in 64 percent
of the state’s deaths. In 2002, the health department reported
that 23 percent of the state’s adults are overweight or obese.
State health department statistics also show that 21 percent
of young people, ages 6 to 19, are overweight, and another 18
percent are at risk.
Physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of
developing health-related diseases such as coronary heart
disease, stroke, high blood pressure, non-insulin dependent
(type 2) diabetes and colon cancer. Physical activity also
reduces stress and feelings of depression and anxiety, as well
as building healthy bones, muscles and joints.
MU Extension fitness specialist Steve Ball said “By just
doing 30 minutes a day of daily activity, the health risks drop
Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity –
equal to a brisk walk --- on most days, according to U.S.
Surgeon General recommendations. For children, 60 minutes of
moderate to vigorous daily activity is recommended.
The good news for busy people is that physical activity does
not mean going to the gym or working up a sweat. “As a
nutritionist, I hear over and over again that time is a
barrier,” Schuster said.
“I don’t like the word ‘exercise,’” she said. “When people
hear it, they think of someone who is running a marathon. You
don’t have to do that to get the health benefits of physical
“The easiest thing to do is piggyback onto what you’re
already doing. Walking is a great activity because you don’t
need any special equipment, just a good pair of shoes,” she
Build in extra activity, Schuster suggests, by parking the
car farther away, getting off at an earlier bus stop, taking the
stairs instead of an elevator or meeting with someone while
walking rather than sitting.
For kids, much of their physical activity comes during
out-of-school time. Participating in sports, after-school
intramurals, bike riding or playing a game of tag are good ways
to get in the recommended amount of physical activity, Ball
“Kids are generally active sporadically,” he said. “Mix
high-intensity activity with periods of rest.”
Family walks or bike rides are another way for parents and
children to fit in physical activity. Even household chores or
raking leaves count toward that daily total, Ball said.
Simpler activities are easier to maintain, Schuster said. “Start with something small, something that’s doable, something you enjoy.”
Sources: Ellen Schuster (573) 882-1933; Steve Ball (573) 882-2334
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009