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Physical activity is important for all

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Walk Kansas program is in full swing across the state with 3,100 teams and 18,600 participants.

In the Southwind Extension District, 118 teams involving over 700 individuals are in the fifth week of the eight week program. Several teams have already logged 423 miles, the distance across the state. Some teams opted for a more difficult challenge of logging 1,200 miles, or the distance around the perimeter of the state.

While there is no solution or magic bullet that can provide good health for everyone, we know that regular physical activity is as close to this as we can get.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder and chairman of the Cooper Aerobics Center, says "Physical activity is one of the greatest bargains this world has ever known."

But being informed and knowing what we should do is not enough; we have to change our own behavior.

That's the goal of Walk Kansas -- that during the eight-week program, participants will establish the personal habit of regular physical activity and a healthier diet which they will continue long after the program has ended. It has to be a lifestyle change.

Adults need at least 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity activity each week.

That sounds like a lot of time, but it doesn't have to be done all at once. Aerobic activity should be done in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week. Taking a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week, or a 10-minute walk three times a day on five days will meet the recommendation.

Only moderate or vigorous intensity activities count toward meeting physical activity needs. Vigorous activities provide similar health benefits in half the time it takes with moderate ones. Although they involve movement, light intensity activities do not increase heart rate, so should not count toward meeting physical activity recommendations. Light intensity activities include walking at a casual pace, such as while grocery shopping and doing light household chores.

One way to tell if you're doing moderate-intensity activity is that you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song. Some examples of moderate activities are walking fast, riding a bike, playing doubles tennis, or pushing a lawn mower.

Vigorous-intensity activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Examples are jogging, running, swimming laps, riding a bike fast or on hills, playing singles tennis, or playing basketball.

In addition to aerobic activity, strength and flexibility exercise should be done at least two days a week. These activities, such as lifting weights, yoga, heavy gardening and exercises that use your body weight for resistance (push ups, sit ups), should work all the major muscle groups. To gain health benefits, muscle-strengthening activities need to be done to the point where it's hard to do another repetition without help.

Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Also, screen time -- television, computer, video games -- should be limited.

Physical activity is generally safe for everyone. The health benefits you gain from being active are far greater than the chance of getting hurt.

If you haven't been active in a while, start slowly and build up. If you have a health problem, ask your health care provider what kinds of activities would be appropriate for you. Build up the time you spend before switching to activities that take more effort. And, always choose a safe place to do your activity.

Summer provides plenty of opportunities to be physically active. Get a friend, your spouse and/or family involved and everyone can benefit from developing a healthier lifestyle.

For more information on health and wellness topics, contact Ann Ludlum, Southwind Extension District, Fort Scott office, at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.