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Exercise Program Aimed at Sedentary Women

American Heart Association launches 2004 'Choose to Move' campaign

FRIDAY, Feb. 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Only 45 percent of American adults are active enough to meet the minimal guidelines to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

The American Heart Association is out to change that, and its next focus will be American women. The association is launching an updated version of "Choose to Move," a 12-week behavior modification program designed to ease women who are too busy to exercise into a more active lifestyle. The program began in 1998.

This year's version will be available online March 11 and by mail the third week in March for women who have already registered.

The program was developed by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas and includes a handbook suggesting easy ways to get more active. Everyday activities like walking to the store instead of driving, or climbing stairs instead of taking elevators, are examples.

Suggestions for healthy meals and snacks are also given. The stories of three fictional women who become more active and healthy provide additional inspiration for changing unhealthy lifestyles.

"The handbook really speaks to women and is inspirational," says Dr. Rita Redberg, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, National Center of Excellence in Women's Health and a volunteer and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

"Cooper [researchers] spent a lot of time talking to women and trying to decide how to overcome obstacles we all have to eating a healthy diet and doing a little more physical activity. The program is only designed to get you started.

"A new part of this year's program is [that] we are going to do follow-up for a year on some of the women who participate," Redberg says. "They can send in postcards and let us know how they are doing. One of the things we got from least year's program is that women want to stay in touch."

A fitness expert says the program sounds like a very good start for inactive women. "If someone can do something for 12 weeks, that is a significant commitment to habit change," says Richard Cotton, a San Diego-based exercise physiologist and a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.

Women contemplating the program should be ready for a lifestyle change, he suggests. Research has shown, and his experience with his fitness clients bears it out, that you need to be ready to change before a habit change can take hold.

Another important suggestion to making physical activity a habit, Cotton says, is to pay more attention to your body when you are working out or fitting in physical activity. "You walk into a gym and everyone is watching CNN," he says. "It's a mind-body disconnect."

He tells people, "Stay in touch with breathing and the movement of your body while exercising. It will ingrain the habit faster."

Another way to get and stay more physically active? "You have to connect your physical activity [and its importance to you] to a deeper value you have," Cotton says. That might be staying healthy so you'll be around for your children, your grandchildren, or your aging parents, he says.

For women with families, it might mean they exercise so they'll have the energy to keep up with family demands. For those with careers, it could mean ensuring enough energy to put in a productive week without feeling exhausted.

More information

To register, go online at the American Heart Association or telephone 1-888-My-Heart.

For more information on getting active, try the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the American Council on Exercise.

SOURCES: Rita Redberg, M.D., professor of medicine, cardiology division, University of California-San Francisco National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, and spokeswoman, American Heart Association, San Francisco; Richard Cotton, exercise physiologist, San Diego, and spokesman, American Council on Exercise
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