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Cultural beliefs may present barrier, but Americans need to get moving

By Hanna Rahman –

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimated that nearly 80% of Americans don’t get the government-recommended two and a half hours of exercise per week. While an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is part of the problem, cultural beliefs and discomfort in gym facilities present additional barriers.

With increasing portion sizes and decreasing physical activity, Americans today are more susceptible to disease and chronic ailments than previous generations. For a large subset of ethnic Americans, a lack of exercise culture or a low prioritization of exercise can add to the already challenging task of starting a fitness regimen.

A 2007 National Center for Biotechnology Information study found that, “Non-Hispanic White people had a statistically significantly higher level of leisure time physical activity than Asian Americans and Hispanics. African Americans reported the lowest level of exercise.”

On top of that, over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and nearly one in three children now are overweight or obese. Obesity can lead to many long-term obesity-related health problems such as high blood pressure, cancer and asthma. The Let’s Move campaign started by Michelle Obama is dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so children grow up to be healthier. The campaign recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity five days a week.

The First Lady’s campaign suggests that kids can get physical activity by simply playing in a nearby park, limiting time in front of a television, or joining a sports team. Some inexpensive ways to get active include walking around the block, being active during TV commercials or facilitating a safe walk to and from school a few times a week. These activities can also be done with family members to provide an encouraging environment, or with close neighbors or other relatives to develop a closer-knit community.

Research also suggests that physical activity is related to better grades and overall performance in academics. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even brief exercise for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. This can help children perform better in school and help adults stay sharp.

Tips for Getting Started

It is essential to ease into any exercise program. When beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. This will prevent injuries, make the effects of exercise last longer and make physical activity enjoyable.

Another key detail is to build activity into a daily routine. Finding time to exercise can be a challenge. Kacie Lyding, a Tempe-based physical therapist, suggests parking farther away from work and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

These easy recommendations can be built into all individuals’ daily routine, whether they are 10 or 40 years old. For those who are older and don’t have experience in physical activity, it is important to start slow. Lyding suggests going on a 30-minute walk every night to get started and doing more household chores. She also suggests doing strength exercises. Strength exercises typically involve lifting weights, but if you don’t have any, you can use common household items. For instance, Lyding suggested using milk gallons to do bicep curls or filling a pillowcase with canned food and doing lunges. For those who are younger, Lyding suggests that it is vital to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

DISCLAIMER: Before starting any physical activity, it is important to consult your doctor to ensure your safety. There are particular safety concerns for individuals who are over the age of 40 or who have not engaged in physical activity for three consecutive months. 

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