One snowy day last week a group of individuals who help in planning the Walk Kansas program met with me to make plans for the 10th annual fitness challenge sponsored by Kansas State University Research and Extension. While the weather hasn't been good for outdoor activity, planning for Walk Kansas means spring can't be far away.
Physical activity is important for good health. Unfortunately, our sedentary lifestyles mean that many adults and children do not get the amount of physical activity needed. Lack of physical activity, along with other lifestyle habits often lead to weight gain. Americans have been steadily getting heavier since the 1970s. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 68 percent of adults are now overweight or obese, with 75 million adults considered obese.
Children have become heavier as well. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Type 2 diabetes, which is usually acquired during adulthood, now appears in children as young as 10 years old. Today's children are the first generation whose life expectancy is shorter than their parents'.
Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of dying of coronary heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death. Physical activity decreases the risk for stroke, colon cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. It helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles and joints; helps to relieve arthritis pain; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications.
Children and teenagers should be physically active for 60 minutes a day. Youth need regular physical activity to improve strength, build lean muscle and decrease body fat. Activity can build stronger bones to last a lifetime.
Moderate physical activity, including walking, for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week is recommended for adults of all ages. To prevent weight gain, about 60 minutes a day may be needed. And for sustaining weight loss, at least 60 to 90 minutes a day of physical activity is recommended.
No one is too old to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity. Muscle-strengthening exercises can reduce the risk of falling and fracturing bones for older adults and can improve the ability to live independently.
Despite all the evidence that physical activity is important for a healthy life, more than 50 percent of American adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits. Activity tends to decrease with age and is less common among women than men.
The Walk Kansas program is a great way to get into the habit of regular physical activity. The eight-week program runs March 13 to May 7. Teams of six people will log their physical activity with the goal of each team to walk 423 miles, the distance across Kansas. Any form of physical activity can be counted, but walking is something almost everyone can do. Bicycling, swimming, dance, aerobic training and team sports also count. Team members will receive weekly newsletters with tips for food, nutrition, health and physical activity.
Remember, whatever your age or stage in life, regular physical activity can help you live a healthier life. Resolve to make time to be physically active. Find five friends, neighbors, coworkers, or family members to join you on a Walk Kansas team. Registration packets will be available in the Bourbon County Extension office and on the office website at www.bourbon.ksu.edu in February.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.