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Bush's Newest Campaign: Physical Fitness

More exercise now a government project

THURSDAY, June 20, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- President Bush launched a campaign today to get Americans to lead healthier lives -- and to start by taking a good, brisk walk.

"When it comes to your health, even little steps can make a difference," Bush said as he looked on at a fitness exposition on the South Lawn of the White House. "When America and Americans are healthier, our whole society benefits."

Bush introduced the effort as the Department of Health and Human Services released a new report saying that physical inactivity costs the nation $117 billion and 300,000 lives a year, and that we've got to get up and do something.

So you're sitting there reading about how the president is telling Americans they've got to exercise more. Then you've got to buy a loaf of bread, and what to you do? Get in the car and drive to the supermarket, most likely.

That's the problem, said Kathy Spangler, president of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity. "We've got the best infrastructure in the world for people to be able to go and do something," she said. "But we have built unintended barriers to physical activity."

She mentioned a few, like schools so far from homes that kids can't walk to them and cul-de-sacs that make it difficult to walk to stores for shopping. "How many businesses have stairwells that make it friendly to walk up and down?" Spangler asked. "Communities in many ways have engineered physical activity out of our lives."

The facilities are there if you want to use them. Spangler is marketing director of the National Recreation and Park Association, which works with 6,000 local park organizations.

But going about your daily business in a slightly different way can give you all the exercise you need, as the president noted. "We propose simple solutions," he said. "How about just walking 30 minutes a day? That's pretty simple."

In addition to the exercise, Bush also urged Americans to eat less fatty foods, to get preventive screening for diseases, and to not drink excessively or smoke.

A 16-page government pamphlet issued for what's being called the "Healthier US" initiative lists some other easily done activities, such as using a push lawn mower instead of a riding one. All that's required, as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and other health groups have been saying, is 30 minutes a day of something as simple as brisk walking.

Spangler acknowledged that the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity hasn't been as successful as might be wished. The organization was formed in 1996 with the help of a federal grant given after release of a Surgeon General's report on the benefits of physical activity and the lack thereof in this country.

Generally, society hasn't been paying attention, she said, because of the increasing mechanized American way of life. "It's easier to use technology in our daily functions than our own energy sources," Spangler said. Inactivity easily becomes a habit, starting with the school years. "Teaching young people to be physically active is something that the schools have moved away from," she said. "Physical activity is not required in any state for graduation."

The new HHS report lists some of the costs of physical inactivity: 12.6 million Americans with coronary heart disease, 17 million with diabetes, 50 million with high blood pressure, nearly 50 million adults -- more than a quarter of the adult population -- struggling with obesity. A study has linked a sedentary lifestyle to 23 percent of all deaths from major chronic diseases, including cancer, the report says.

The statistics go on and on. More than 40 percent of children in grades nine to 12 watch television more than two hours a day. Nearly 40 percent of adults report no leisure-time physical activity. People get less active as they age; more than half of men and two-thirds of women over 75 have no leisure-time physical activity.

"It's not really about exercise," Spangler said. "It's about being active. We have to make physical activity permeate our lifestyle."

Bush also signed an executive order allowing federal employees to take time off to exercise every day. And he announced that fees in the U.S. national parks will be waived this weekend. "Go to one of our parks and take a hike," he said.

Bush sets an example with a daily run, which he said is good for both his body and his attitude. "After I get a good run in, I even like the press corps a lot better," he said.

What To Do

You can get the new report from the Department of Health and Human Services, and get some practical exercise tips from the American Heart Association. Check out the new Healthier US Web site for more.

SOURCES: President George W. Bush, Washington, D.C.; Kathy Spangler, president, National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, Washington, D.C.; Physical Activity Fundamental To Preventing Disease, Department of Health and Human Services
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