Physical activity important for maintaining good health

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Researchers are continually learning more about the relationship between regular exercise, good nutrition and good health. They tell us that deaths from such causes as heart disease and stroke to colon cancer and diabetes could be greatly reduced if people were physically active and ate a nutritious diet.

Daily opportunities to burn calories have diminished over the years. We drive, rather than walk or bicycle. Our homes and workplaces are automated. We have labor-saving devices at work and home and we spend a lot of time in sedentary activities, such as computer and television use. Inactivity often leads to overweight and obesity, which have reached epidemic proportions in the United States.

It's not just adults who are affected by inactivity and overweight. The rate of increase in overweight among young people has been even steeper than among adults. This is particularly troubling since many of the behaviors that lead to adult obesity are established during childhood. Just 10 years ago, type 2 diabetes was nearly unknown in children and adolescents. The medical community commonly referred to the condition as Adult onset diabetes.@ Today, however, it accounts for almost 50 percent of new cases of pediatric diabetes in some communities.

Medical complications associated with obesity in children can lead to other problems such as sleep apnea and asthma. Since 1980, the percentage of children who are overweight has nearly doubled. The percentage of adolescents who are overweight has nearly tripled. Almost 9 million young Americans, or about 15 percent of all children, are overweight.

It=s apparent that most of us need to work at getting regular physical activity into our everyday schedule. This doesn=t necessarily mean joining a gym or committing to a rigorous training routine. Any activities that fit into the daily routine that speed your heart rate and breathing, or increase your strength and flexibility are beneficial. But, wintry weather makes it a little more difficult to get the exercise we need.

Making a lifestyle change to a healthier diet and more physical activity isn't easy. It takes some time for those changes to become a habit in our lives. Having friend or family support can help. Feeling accountable for getting exercise every day for a period of time may be a motivation.

The Walk Kansas fitness program might be just the motivation needed to make a lifestyle change to being more physically active. The program, sponsored by the Extension office, starts March 9 and lasts for 8 weeks. During that time, teams of six keep track of daily physical activity and fruits and vegetables eaten. The goal of each team is to collectively log 423 miles, the distance across Kansas. That distance breaks down to about 30 minutes a day five days a week for each team member. Other physical activities also count, with 15 minutes of activity equal to one mile. It's recommended that adults eat about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1?2 cups vegetables each day.

Not only is the Walk Kansas program a motivation to be physically active; it is also a fun way to get fit. Previous participants who encourage a new team to sign up will be entered in a special prize drawing. Teams who choose to do so may compete for the title of "Bourbon County Walk Kansas Biggest Losers." All participants will have an opportunity to win prizes through weekly newsletters, a kick-off event on March 8 and an ending celebration on May 7.

The cost is only $5 per person or $10 for a family team. Each participant will receive nine weekly newsletters with information on nutrition and physical activity, motivational topics, and updates on team progress. Registration packets can be picked up at the Extension office on first floor of the courthouse and must be completed and returned by February 29 (February 28 if ordering optional t-shirts). Call 223-3720 for more information.