Tuesday, August 28, 2007

U.S. Obesity Epidemic Continues to Grow

A new report released by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) revealed that U.S. obesity rates rose in 31 states in 2006. Twenty-two states showed an increase for the second year in a row. No states showed improvement in reducing obesity rate.

Read the report and check how (un)healthy your state is. >>

The report also finds that rates of overweight children (ages 10 to 17) are on the rise, too.

A new public opinion survey featured in the report also finds that 85% Americans acknowledge obesity is an epidemic. But why is obesity trend unstoppably going up year after year?

The government, health and fitness industry and media have spent tremendous amount of time and effort in raising the awareness of health, exercise, lifestyle change and weight control. Americans have poured in billions of dollars every year in diet pills , nutritional supplements , exercise machines, fitness gadgets and gym memberships. The results are terrible!

"We need a breakthrough in terms of policies and results," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "Poor nutrition and physical inactivity are robbing America of our health and productivity."

The following is a summary of TFAH recommendations for combating obesity.

TFAH recommends a comprehensive approach for helping individuals make healthy choices including support from families, communities, schools, employers, the food and beverage industries, health professionals, and government at all levels. Some key recommendations include:

Think big. The federal government should develop and implement a National Strategy to Combat Obesity. This plan should involve every federal government agency, define clear roles and responsibilities for states and localities, and engage private industry and community groups.

Make healthy choices easy choices. Federal, state, and local governments should develop and implement policies that give Americans the tools they need to make it easier to engage in the recommended levels of physical activity and choose healthy foods, ranging from improving food served and increasing opportunities for physical activity in schools to requiring restaurants and food companies to provide better and more readily accessible information about the nutritional content of their products to securing more safe, affordable recreation places for all Americans.

Improve your bottom line. Federal, state, and local governments should work with private employers and insurers to ensure that every working American has access to a workplace wellness program.

Escalate research on how to promote healthy choices. Public health officials have identified a number of strategies to help encourage people to make healthier decisions about nutrition and activity, however, much more research needs to be done about how to effectively promote healthier habits.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Walking for Your Health

The newly updated ACSM physical activity guidelines now recommend that all adults (both under and over age 65) accumulate moderately intense cardio for minimum 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

It may sound overwhelming at first. In modern lifestyle people are so busy at work, taking less vacation days, and spending more time and money eating out. It seems that people are crunched in time doing the exercise required to manage their weight and health.

How do you find the time to do the five 30-miniute cardio sessions and two muscle strength training sessions every week?

Remember, these are just basic recommendations and guidelines to maintain health and reduce risk of chronic disease. If you're overweight or obese, you may need 60 to 90 minutes of physical activities to lose weight (or fat).

Walking is the most popular form of aerobic exercise for adults. Walking at a normal-to-brisk pace constitutes moderate-intensity exercise. Walking has several advantages over other exercises:

- Walking can be performed by a majority of people.
- Walking does not require special equipment or other people.
- Walking has a low rate of injury.
- Walking is easier to work into one's daily schedule.

Walking is also an activity that many people can fit into their daily schedules. The ACSM guidelines specify that short bouts of moderate-intensity activities of 10 minute or longer can be counted towards the 30-minute recommendation. For example, if a person finds it difficult to block out 30 consecutive minutes for walking, it might be easier to take three 10-minute walks.

Although walking does not provide the same boost to fitness as a more vigorous activity such as running or high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) cardio, it is clearly a type of exercise with important health benefits. Walking can be equally beneficial to many people who cannot engage in more vigorous intensity activities due to medical or orthopedic problems.

One often-missed yet important element in walking for your health is that the "intensity" has to be at least on the "moderate" level.

The ACSM guidelines specify moderate-intensity physical activity as "working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still being able to carry on a conversation." So causal walking a few minutes in the office or around the block at a slow pace do not count towards the recommendation.

So how fast or how hard should you walk to meet the ACSM recommendations for your health?

At a walking pace of 3.5 miles per hour, a person could walk two miles in about 35 minutes. This would be one way to meet the ACSM recommendation for aerobic exercise.

How do you know that you've just walked two miles in 35 minutes?

Pedometers are useful tools for helping people track their walking particularly when they distribute the walking throughout the day. Although the exact number of steps needed for health benefits has not been documented for all ages, an average of 10,000 steps per day has been linked with lower blood pressure, improved blood glucose control, a healthier body weight, and less abdominal obesity.

Each person's fitness level is different. Walking pace of 3.5 miles per hour could be easy for one, but challenging for the other. For cardiovascular health beyond the ACSM recommendation, you should walk fast enough that you feel your heart rate goes up, breathe a little heavier and cannot complete a sentence without a break. If you wear a heart-rate monitor, you should walk fast ennough that your heart rate stays above the minimum recommended range by your physician or trainer.

Another way of measuring your aerobic intensity is the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). It's also called the "talk test" to gauge how you feel during the exercise. The moderate intensity would be at least 5 to 6 out of the RPE scale of 1 to 10 range.

When beginning a walking routine, start slowly and progress gradually. Also keep in mind that consistency is the real key to gaining health benefits through walking. The choice to be an active person requires a lifetime commitment.

As always, consult your physician before starting an exercise program especially if you have medical or orthopedic problems. Hire a qualified personal trainer to design a custom and individualized program for you.

With patience and consistency, you can walk your way for improving your health and losing fat.

Learn how to walk off your weight. >>

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Muscle Up! The Updated Physical Activity Guidelines

Muscle up and pump iron!

Muscle strengthening or strength training is now officially recommended in the updated physical activity guidelines released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Heart Association (AHA).

Research shows that regular physical activities reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, some types of cancer (colon, breast, prostate, lung), anxiety, depression and a host of other health problems.

These guidelines outline exercise recommendations for healthy adults and older adults and are an update from the 1995 guidelines.

Read the full updated guidelines here >>

Learn more about weight training and workout routines to gain strength and build muscle >>

Learn more about effective high intensity cardio interval training (H.I.I.T.) to lose fat faster >>

Summary

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Guidelines for healthy adults under age 65

Basic recommendations from ACSM and AHA:

Do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week

Or

Do vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week

And

Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.

Moderate-intensity physical activity means working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still being able to carry on a conversation. It should be noted that to lose weight or maintain weight loss, 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary. The 30-minute recommendation is for the average healthy adult to maintain health and reduce the risk for chronic disease.

Guidelines for adults over age 65
(or adults 50-64 with chronic conditions, such as arthritis)

Basic recommendations from ACSM and AHA:

Do moderately intense aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week

Or

Do vigorously intense aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week

And

Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, 10-15 repetitions of each exercise twice to three times per week

And

If you are at risk of falling, perform balance exercises

And

Have a physical activity plan.

Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity is critical for healthy aging. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise means working hard at about a level-six intensity on a scale of 10. You should still be able to carry on a conversation during exercise.

Older adults or adults with chronic conditions should develop an activity plan with a health professional to manage risks and take therapeutic needs into account. This will maximize the benefits of physical activity and ensure your safety.

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Comments

The document also provides useful information and tips as to how to meet the exercise recommendations and how to start an exercise program.

Eight improvements over 1995 guidelines were made and clarifed in details.

One updated guideline also spells out that "more is better." It emphasizes the importanct fact that physical activity above the recommended minimum amount provides even greater health benefits. To prevent unhealthy weight gain, attain or maintain weight loss, some adults will need to do more than 30 minutes a day.

In addition, the updated guidelines specified the so called "moderate" or "vigorous" intensity physical activities and 10-minute short bouts of exercise.

Short bouts of "low" intensity activity, such as grocery shopping, taking out the trash or casual walking a few minutes in the office or parking lot, DO NOT count.

However, certain daily activities of moderate to vigorous intensity nature, such as brisk walking to work, yardwork/gardening, performed in bouts of 10 minutes or longer can be counted towards the recommendations.

The key is that the intensity of activitiy has to be at a minimum RPE level of 4 to 5 to keep your heart rate up at a sustained duration of 10 minutes or longer.

So after-dinner walking around your neighborhood by youself or with your family is a great idea to wind down for the day and to get some family time. To reap health benefit, the walking pace has to be at least at 3.5 miles per hour or two miles in about 35 minutes to meet the recommendation for aerobic exercise.

You don't have to go the gym to get the daily recommended physical activities. There are many different physical activities and exercises you can do in the gym and outdoors. My earlier article on cross training provides a variety of fitness program, sports and activities you can do all year round.

You can also choose your physical activities, exercise or workout by your personality. Exercise program compliance and consistency is the #1 challege to health and fitness success. You want to pick the activities that you're motivated to do and love to do without being told.

For variety and effectiveness, you can mix up the intensity of cardiovascular exercise in the same session or in different workouts. I have elaborated the high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) method as an effective and efficient cardiovascular training protocol for losing fat and preserving muscle.

You don't necessary have to go to gym or have a home gym to perform muscle strength training. For many beginners or seniors, bodyweight-based exercise or functional training are more than sufficient. As you get stronger, you may want to join a gym or build a home gym so that you can have more equipment options. There are so many weight training systems and workout routines available. It's wise to hire a personal trainer to show you how to lift weights properly and custom-design a training program for you.

Take-away Message

The message is loud and clear: do as much as you can do to prevent yourself from becoming disabled!

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