The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just came out with a new report. While the CDC isn’t usually known as a harbinger of uplifting news, I have to admit a certain amount of deflation upon hearing their findings that 80 percent of all Americans don’t get enough exercise. This report is like salt in the wound for all of us anticipating the start of summer a few scant weeks away (granted, longer in the Pacific Northwest). The CDC report dovetails with a recent Gallup press release entitled, “Americans’ Exercise Habits Worsen Slightly in 2013.” The couch potatoes among us are in ascendency.
So, how much exercise is enough? According to Gallup, enough is “frequent exercise,” which they define as 30 minutes, three or more times per week. The CDC has a higher standard. The CDC uses the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. According to the CDC:
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as walking, or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging, or a combination of both. The guidelines also recommend that adults do muscle-strengthening activities, such as push-ups, sit-ups, or activities using resistance bands or weights. These activities should involve all major muscle groups and be done on two or more days per week.
There was a silver lining in the CDC report, however. They noted that half of adult Americans met the aerobic component and a third meet the strengthening component. The report went on to suggest these amounts would improve if there was better access to “safe and convenient places” where people could go to work out.
I hate to argue with the CDC, but I don’t think a lack of workout options is really what’s holding up the vast majority of adult Americans. We’re exercising plenty — of denial. It’s not like either of these reports is a shocker. Although, I have to admit a modicum of skepticism at the 50-plus-percent figure in both the Gallup and CDC reports. Both of them take their statistics from what are called “self-reports.” As a therapist, I’m skeptical because I’m familiar with human nature and the fact people lie, especially to their doctors, their spouses, their therapists, themselves and, yes, to random pollsters who call up in the evening and ask about exercise habits after you’ve just eaten that second bowl of ice cream.
There are a plethora of rationales for why people don’t engage in regular exercise: I don’t have the time,” “I don’t have the energy,” “I don’t like exercise,” “I don’t know what to do,” “I don’t see results,” “It’s too cold, wet or hot.” I understand each and every one of these, having felt that way multiple times at some point in my life. When all you focus on is the why-nots of exercise, it’s hard to factor in the why-tos, which are multiple. From the Mayo Clinic: “Exercise controls weight,” it “combats health conditions and diseases,” “exercise improves mood,” it “boosts energy,” “exercise promotes better sleep,” it “puts the spark back in your sex life,” “exercise can be fun.” Okay, the last one may seem like a stretch (pun intended) but it’s true.
Americans, simply put, prefer an increasingly sedentary life. We sit in our cars. We sit in our busses and trains. We sit on our jobs and plop down on our couches when we get home. Over the last few decades, we’ve added “we sit in front of our computers” (which I’m doing right now, of course).
The exercise challenge isn’t just for middle-aged Americans like me, but especially younger Americans, who may conquer alien worlds or communicate with dozens of friends, while mindlessly consuming an entire bag of chips. I don’t think these statistics are going to change for the positive until all of us start exercising something we’ve been resistant to do so far — put down that bag of chips, that generous helping of denial, and start exercising our common sense, even when we don’t really want to.
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