Many Americans Not Active Enough to Reap Health Benefits

Government report says more than half don't reach recommended levels

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 1, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- More than half the adults in the United States are not physically active enough to get any health benefit from their efforts, a new government report released Thursday finds.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 54.1 percent of adults don't do the minimum level of physical activity that is recommended for their well-being. The CDC report also found that more than 15 percent of adults are physically inactive in the three activity areas examined: household work, transportation, and discretionary/leisure time.

The report, the first to examine all three areas over a two-year period, appears in the Dec. 2 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

People should be active for at least a half-hour a day, if not more, lead author Dr. S. Sapkota, of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said. "Physical activity is very important for health; physical inactivity has a lot of unhealthy implications," he added.

"More than half of U.S. adults are not active enough to gain health benefits," Sapkota said. "Although we are improving over the last few years, from 2001 to 2003, it's not a big improvement."

From 2000 to 2003, the percentage of active Americans decreased in 12 states and territories. The decrease was especially significant in Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia and Puerto Rico.

Other states fared better, with the largest increase in physical activity occurring in Nebraska. According to the report, "in 2003, the prevalence of physical activity in 22 states and the District of Columbia was equal to or greater" than the 50 percent target set by federal health officials as the "national health objective" to boost moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity.

However, "there is still a lot to do in making U.S. adults active," Sapkota said. "People could start by incorporating physical activity in their daily lives."

Many may not want to, however. The results of an online survey of more than 6,000 American adults, also released Thursday, found that a full third of the population is "disinterested" in engaging in activities that might boost their health.

Another 29 percent say they do try and get fitter when forced to by a health crisis, but otherwise don't bother, according to the survey conducted in March by the market research firm Yankelovich Inc. Nine percent say they know they should exercise more, and want to -- but never seem able to do so. Only 30 percent fell into the "Take Charge" camp -- people who regularly get off the couch and get active.

Those are the folks that will reap the feel-good rewards, according to the CDC study.

"Physical activity is associated with a lot of health benefits," Sapkota said. "Inactivity is associated with a lot of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers."

People need to incorporate physical activity in their daily lives, Sapkota added. "For example, you can be more active in your household work," he said. "Or simple things like walking for half an hour, or being more active in physically active hobbies and sports."

The CDC believes public health efforts at the local, state and federal level are also needed to improve Americans' participation in physical activity.

One expert sees increasing physical activity as a difficult, but not impossible, task in the modern world.

"It is very doubtful that Homo sapiens have any more native defenses against the lure of the couch than we have against an excess of tasty calories," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center Yale University School of Medicine.

It's no surprise that -- in an age of ever-proliferating, labor-saving technology -- levels of lifestyle physical activity are low, Katz added. "If anything, it is surprising that there has been a slight improvement in these statistics over recent years. Even a hint of favorable trends suggests that people are trying," he added.

Achieving higher levels of physical activity will require modifying the environment, to increase opportunities for activity, Katz said.

"But it will also require the cultivation of interest, will and dedication at the individual level. It's hard to imagine society will abandon labor-saving technologies it worked hard to produce," Katz said. "So, for our own good, we must manage to be active despite ever-greater opportunities to be sedentary."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can tell you more about exercise and health.

SOURCES: S. Sapkota, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, public health, and director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Dec. 2, 2005, CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; Dec. 1, 2005, news release, Yankelovich, Inc.

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