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Exercise is best ‘youth pill’ around, but 80% — including Minnesotans — fall far short

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Here in Minnesota, 20.9 percent of adults are meeting both the aerobic and muscle-strengthening recommendations in the Department of Health and Human Services' 2008 “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.”

Only about one in five Americans — including Minnesotans — are meeting the minimum federal guidelines for both aerobic and anaerobic (muscle-strengthening) activity, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s not exactly a surprising finding, particularly given the United States’ growing girth. Some 35 percent of American adults are obese and another 33 percent are overweight, government statistics show.

It is, however, a discouraging finding. In addition to helping to maintain a healthy weight, regular aerobic exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your body and your brain. It reduces your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, certain cancers and a host of other diseases. Muscle-strengthening activities help combat many of those same chronic conditions, too, in addition to ensuring better balance and agility.

Exercise is, without doubt, the best medicine around — a “youth pill,” if you will. Study after study has shown that exercise extends life expectancy, including for people who are obese.

But, as the new CDC study shows, most Americans are not getting that message — or, at least, they’re not acting upon it. Using data collected from 497,967 phone surveys conducted in 2011, the CDC researchers found that only 20.6 percent of adults are meeting both the aerobic and muscle-strengthening recommendations in the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2008 “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.”

Here in Minnesota, 20.9 percent of adults met both those guidelines. The proportions for other states ranged from 12.7 percent (Tennessee) to 27.3 percent (Colorado).

Findings may be optimistic

The government guidelines recommend that we get 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as walking) or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (jogging) a week. They also recommend two weekly sessions of muscle-strengthening activities (push-ups, sit-ups) that use all major muscle groups.

The study found that we’re much better at finding time for the aerobic activities. Nationwide, 51.6 percent of adults met the aerobic-activity guidelines, while only 29.3 percent met the anaerobic ones.

Among Minnesota’s adults, 54.0 percent spent a sufficient amount of time each week doing aerobic activities and 29.6 percent did the same for muscle-strengthening exercises.

All those percentages are probably optimistic, however. That’s because the telephone-survey data was self-reported, and people are notorious for overestimating the amount of physical activity they actually do.

Needed: more access

The CDC researchers do not just call on individuals to exercise more. They also acknowledge that to get people moving, “communities, schools, governments, and worksites” must make a bigger effort to increase access to safe opportunities for physical activity.

Schools, for example, could allow adults to use of their facilities during non-school hours. And communities could redesign their streets and public spaces to encourage walking and bicycling.

“Continued national, state, and local efforts to implement strategies can help improve the proportion of adults who meet physical activity guidelines,” they conclude.

The CDC study was published in the May 3 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 05/09/2013 - 07:44 am.

    A good way to start.

    FInd a reason to walk everyday. If you drink coffee walk to a local coffee shop every day and get your coffee. If you can’t walk early try finding a place you can walk to for lunch. Gyms and exercise clubs rarely work in the long run. Try to fit a 30 minute round trip walk into everyday. You don’t need a membership or special gear and you will be healthier.

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