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Physical activity lowers health risks

Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information
University of Missouri, 

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 sleeping better.

“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 dramatically,”

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 activity.

“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 said.

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 said.

“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








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