December 11, 2007

Physical Activity or Exercise? - Making a New Year's Resolution

Being fit in the New Year does not have to mean going to the gym.

MANHATTAN - When starting a new fitness program this year, David Dzewaltowski recommends focusing on the term "physical activity" as opposed to "exercise."

Dzewaltowski, head of the department of kinesiology at Kansas State University, said the word "exercise" may conjure up ideas of a workout at the gym or a structured aerobics dance class.

"I like to give people the term 'physical activity' to talk about or think about when making a New Year's resolution," Dzewaltowski said. "It puts the focus on increasing activity throughout the day rather than limiting yourself to thinking structured exercise is the only option. It might be a good option for some people, but it's not the only option."

The goal is to accumulate 30 minutes of exercise each day. This could mean taking three 10-minute walks per day, shoveling the driveway or working around the house, he said. Or, it could mean going to the exercise club and participating in structured exercise.

"Most people set a goal that's way too difficult," Dzewaltowski said. "It's not really how hard you exercise that is the key to achieving some of the things people want from exercise - like improved health or weight loss.

The key is really sticking with exercise. You're better doing a little bit for three to six months or a year, than doing a lot and getting tired and sore and quitting after two weeks."

Dzewaltowski said a good way to put more activity into each day is to start realizing what modern industrial society has taken out of our lives. We used to have to walk for transportation, labor physically at work, and, when it was time for recreation, we also played physically, he said.
Now we might drive right up to the door of our office, have a sedentary job, and when we go home, we do a sedentary activity, like watch television.

Some of the health benefits of regular exercise are well-known, like the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Dzewaltowski said. However, recent studies are showing exercise will reduce the risk for some cancers, such as colon cancer. Anxiety and depression are also shown to decrease with regular activity.

But besides disease prevention, exercise will help prolong the general quality of life for many individuals.

"What that means is they are able to function and do daily living tasks at a greater level of performance than people who are not active. They can carry their groceries, go to the store and shop and work in their garden.

They can do the recreation that people think they're going to do when they retire - the things a lot of people find they can't do because they haven't maintained their health well enough so they can do those daily living activities."

Used with permission.

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