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Just Keep Moving

Make a pledge to shape up during National Running and Fitness Week

SATURDAY, May 12 (HealthScout) -- It doesn't matter whether you run, walk, hike, swim, cycle or play an organized sport to celebrate National Running and Fitness Week -- May 14-20 -- just as long as you try your hand at some type of exercise.

"The basic goal is to encourage more people to get active and be fit," says Barbara Baldwin, information services director for the American Running Association (ARA).

National Running and Fitness Week, first marked in 1972, is an annual reminder to Americans about the importance of exercise. Baldwin says people think there's a steady trend toward fitness and activity -- and better health. But she notes that fewer than 30 percent of Americans are active on a regular basis.

"So there are quite a few people out there who haven't quite caught onto the message yet," Baldwin says.

If you're considering getting more active, pick a fitness program or sport that suits your schedule, budget and lifestyle, advises Susan Kalish, ARA's executive director.

"It's very personal -- they're all different and there's one that fits your needs. Don't think you have to do what your neighbor does or what your husband does or what you did when you were a child. The key to a successful fitness program is doing something you enjoy and that fits your needs," Kalish says.

Practicality is an important feature of any activity. For example, Kalish says, downhill skiing is one of her favorite sports. But she doesn't have the time or money to do it often enough for it to be her primary fitness pursuit.

"I've chosen running as my major sport because I'm a working mom and I have very little time. I can stick my running into my current lifestyle," Kalish says.

"When you want to pick an exercise program, pick one that fits your schedule and your lifestyle and your interests, so you can have fun with it," she adds.

Research potential activities by talking with a fitness instructor or trainer at a health club or recreation center. You also can get information about sports and exercise at a bookstore or do some research at the library. Or you might talk with your friends about their fitness pursuits and perhaps join them a few times to see if their preferences suit you.

"It is certainly convenient to find a sport that your friends participate in, primarily because it's so much more fun to exercise with a pal. And it helps with motivation because when you set a date to exercise with somebody, you're more likely to keep it," Kalish says.

But don't feel bound to do something just because a friend or spouse does it. And if you do plan to exercise with someone else, try to find someone who matches your abilities so you won't end up discouraged.

It often takes a few samplings before you find an activity that best suits you, Kalish says.

And if you're already active with a favorite pastime, you still need to be flexible and willing to find new activities if your lifestyle or circumstances change.

"Remember that life is a continuum. And so what you do now, have fun with it, but things may change later," Kalish says.

If you identify too strongly with just one sport or activity, you may leave no room for other options.

"I know so many people who think of themselves as runners and when they get hurt running, they think they have to stop exercising. That's so sad. There are so many other sports they could pick up," Kalish says.

What To Do

You can find a gym-bag full of information about exercise and fitness at the American Running Association. And there's more about exercise at the American Heart Association.

For other HealthScout stories on exercise, click here.

SOURCES: Interviews with Barbara Baldwin, M.P.H., information services director; Susan Kalish, executive director; both at the American Running Association, Bethesda, Md.
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