Message of new health guidelines: Get physical

Published 10:02 pm Saturday, October 11, 2008

A health expert says time constraints and safety concerns are among the top reasons Alabamians don’t engage in enough physical activity.

“Americans are pretty hurried living their daily lives,” said Laurie Eldridge-Auffant, health behavior specialist with the Nutrition and Physical Activity Division, Alabama Department of Public Health. “People have the perceived notion that there is not enough time to get physical activity in.”

New science-based guidelines from the federal government, however, say anyone can be active if they so choose. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans set achievable goals that can be customized according to a person’s interests, lifestyle and goals.

The basic idea is that some physical activity is better than none, and can be done in small increments – even while you are working.

“The great thing about these new guidelines is that you can get physical activity in throughout the day,” Eldridge-Auffant said. “These are the first guidelines issued by the federal government that say the best time for physical activity is what works into your own schedule.”

Anyone can put a little elbow grease into their homework or everyday chores. This kind of attitude can even prove beneficial in the workplace. People with desk jobs, for example, can take short breaks and walk around the building. Eldridge-Auffant said studies have shown that such activity, even if done briefly and in small increments, is more beneficial than not.

“It helps you to become a better, more productive employee because it elevates your mood and gets oxygen flowing,” she said.

Experts also recommend resistance training, such as lifting weights, because of its specific benefits. Muscular training becomes increasingly important as people age, Eldridge-Auffant noted.

The problem seems to be simply a lack of self-confidence.

“We keep seeing obesity rates going up,” she said. “Some people are concerned with whether they have the ability to be physically active.”

Her advice to anyone who fits into this category: “Get up and start moving.” With that advice, she says physical activity does not have to be boring. No one should dread working out.

“Find what your passionate about, whether it be gardening, house cleaning, kids’ sports,” she advises. “People need to find what makes them happy.”

Just two and a half hours of physical activity per week can reduce the risk of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, and even depression.

A family matter

Then there are the kids. The reasons kids don’t get enough physical activity are numerous.

First, there are safety concerns. This is why most parents don’t allow their kids to walk to school or play outside very often, and they are understandable reasons.

New programs like Safe Routes to School are making a difference, however. Some parents walk with their kids to school. In cases where the school is not within walking distance, students can walk short distances in groups.

“The real issue is how communities can make it easier or safer for people to get physical activity in,” Eldridge-Auffant said.

Careful planning by cities to build parks, shopping malls and stores within walking distance of residential areas is one way this can happen. Also, YMCA community outreach programs are making great strides in this area.

In the end, it all points back to the parents, she indicated.

“Basically, families that play together stay healthy together,” Eldridge-Auffant said.