Physical Activity Gets Top Billing on the White House Lawn
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Thank heavens we have a President who has an interest in exercise. He arrived just in time to hear the grim statistics that we continue to be a society of couch potatoes, growing fatter by the day. President Bush jogs regularly and performs various other types of exercise. In a recent interview with his personal physician, Dr. Ken Cooper (also known as the Father of Aerobics), I was impressed to learn that the President is in excellent health and has a very high level of physical fitness. Despite the many demands placed on his time, President Bush makes exercise a top priority in his life and is a good example of someone having to "find time" to stay healthy.
Despite all the hardships that we have faced these last few months, physical inactivity has become one of the major news stories. We are growing more and more obese, and government and public health officials are wondering how to deal with the millions of couch potatoes who would prefer to sit in front of their 100-plus cable-access television sets eating high-fat foods and drinking liquid sugar (better known as pop or soda) rather than go for a walk or wheel. Obesity is now spreading to other parts of the world, as noted in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, which used the following quote on its front page to attract readers to the story: "The obesity epidemic isn't just a U.S. problem. From Mexico to China and even struggling Africa, increased affluence and more-sedentary lifestyles are fueling what one researcher calls a catastrophe to come."
What has all this done to our health? Here are some of the most current statistics published last week by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services on the health of Americans:
- 12.6 million people have coronary heart disease
- 1.1 million people will have a heart attack this year
- 17 million Americans have diabetes and another 16 million people have "pre-diabetes"
- 300,000 older adults, mostly women, will fracture their hip this year, many never recovering well enough to return to their own home
- 50 million people have high blood pressure
- 61 percent are obese or overweight
Physical inactivity has not only affected adults. Children are also growing more sedentary and often do not participate in sports and other recreational activities that were popular among earlier generations. Aside from an occasional soccer or baseball game coupled with a few practice sessions that often involve more "standing around" than moving, children are following in the footsteps of their parents. We have become a society that is known for long work hours, long commutes, and lots of "down time" on the weekends and in the evening participating (poor use of the word) in sedentary activities - eating, drinking, watching TV, playing computer games, surfing the Internet, or hanging out in electronic chat rooms.
Scientists have noted for some time that the human body cannot sustain a life of inactivity. Studies that have been done on individuals who are on bed rest found that a few weeks of lying in bed leads to decreased bone mineral content, lower heart function, higher risk of blood clots, pulmonary dysfunction, and many other health problems. Evolution tells us that the human body, with its long limbs and short torso, was designed to move. We were built with the intent of being able to survive droughts, hunt and gather food, and build shelter for our families. We were not designed to sit at a desk all day or in front of a TV set.
Not moving enough results in muscle wasting, loss of bone mineral content, decreased heart strength, decreased mental and physical vigor, and increased resistance to insulin leading to diabetes. The human body, like any machine, is built to move. No matter what the physical limitation, health condition, or disability, we must move more to offset the higher intake of calories that we are all consuming. President Bush's support for a National Fitness Day is a good start in a long-term effort to get Americans to become more physically active. NCHPAD will work diligently over this next year to ensure that people with disabilities are represented in this important campaign.