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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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Society's Growing Need for Fitness


In the past 100 years we have moved from an agrarian society to one consumed by technology. Where it was once common practice to chop wood, bale hay, till the land, carry buckets of milk from the barn to the house, and tend to animals, which required high amounts of physical energy and helped us maintain our body weight, by the end of the century we were using machines to do most of the work for us.

Today we sit behind huge automobiles with power steering and cruise control that require increasingly less of our own energy to operate. We carry portable cellular phones wherever we go, which reduces the need to walk to a telephone booth. Many of us work at home or in offices where we don't even have to leave our desks because of e-mail, voice mail, and fax machines. We sit in front of giant movie-like television screens using remote control devices to flip through hundreds of channels that hypnotize us for hours upon hours and lower our resting energy metabolism, more so than if we read a book. And we play computer games or "surf the Net" without moving more than a few fingers. Instead of driving to the mall, which requires a small amount of energy expenditure in walking from store to store, we can now sit in front of a computer screen and shop - less movement, less energy expended, more calories for the fat cells. And when we do have an opportunity to obtain some exercise by using the stairs, we select the elevator.

Americans find it easier to sit than to move, to sleep than to exercise, to eat than not to eat. In a society where food is around us virtually 24 hours a day through fast-food restaurants, vending machines, and take-out orders done over the phone or Internet, we find it hard not to eat. The volatile combination of excessive food consumption and an inactive lifestyle spells disaster. Just look around you - hospitals and nursing homes are filled with people suffering from poor eating habits and inactivity.

We have become one of the most sedentary societies in the world, and the obesity rate among children and adults is climbing (Kuczmarski, 1992). And with this evolution in lifestyle comes disease and disability. Excuses for why we don't exercise are rampant: we're too busy, the weather is bad, we don't have any fitness equipment, the gym is too expensive, we're not feeling well, exercise is boring. As the list of high-tech energy-saving devices grows, so do our midsections.

Most of our health care expenditures are spent diagnosing and treating disease. Some experts have noted that we really don't have a health care system; what we have is a disease care system. We wait for the diseased heart to malfunction and then perform quadruple bypass surgery. Rather than quit smoking, we have a lung removed followed by several bouts of chemotherapy and radiation. Instead of losing weight to protect a joint, we replace it when it becomes too painful to walk. This reminds me of the oil filter commercial on television years ago, where the mechanic standing over an automobile with a dirty oil filter in his hand says to the customer, "You can pay me now or you can pay me later." In other words, you can pay a few dollars to have your oil filter replaced now, or wait until the engine falls apart and replace it for a few thousand dollars.

Several agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Link), the Surgeon General's Office (Surgeon General Link), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM Link), the National Institutes of Health (NIH Link), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS Link) and the American Heart Association (AHA Link), have declared war on inactivity by sounding the same mantra: Physical activity is vital to good health, and inactivity is the precursor to disease. Since we no longer obtain regular physical activity performing daily chores, we must find ways to restructure our lives so that a dose of physical activity is added to our daily regimen.


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