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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Still Sitting Down?

Still Sitting Down?
Here's Why Getting Active Now Is So Important

- Marie Wolf

America's bulging waistline isn't going away, despite the headlines, campaigns and public health initiatives urging us to eat better and exercise more.

Obesity among men, women and children in every state is on the rise, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, according to a 2003 report by the National Health Policy Forum (NHPF). More than 60 million adults, age 20 and over, had a body mass index (BMI) - a measure of weight in relation to height - of 30 or greater during the years 1999 to 2002, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That's a 7 percent increase just since 1994. Even more disturbing, the number of overweight children (ages 6 to 19) has tripled since 1980.

We know that being overweight isn't healthy. Along with an increased incidence in "adult onset" diabetes (in kids and adults alike), too much weight gain leads to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

"All of these conditions conspire to foster an earlier onset of heart attacks and strokes," notes Russell Robertson, M.D., who has practiced family medicine for the past 21 years and heads the department of family medicine at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in Illinois. Obesity, Robertson says, may also lead to degenerative arthritis, which destroys the joints and lessens mobility.

It's not good for us emotionally, either. Overweight kids, in particular, suffer from low self-esteem, depression and social discrimination. Worse, research has shown that an overweight adolescent has a 70 percent chance of becoming an overweight adult.

Fitness Fortes

Weight loss aside, shaping up actually offers a host of benefits for every age.

"Physical activity improves bone density, and reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels," says Cynthia LaBella, M.D., medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine in Chicago. It is especially important for children, LaBella says. "They are actively growing and forming nerve connections" and movement enhances this.

Childhood is also prime time for developing good motor patterns, she adds. "Throwing a baseball is easier at 8, 9 or 10 years old, than it is at 20, 21 or 22. Your brain is primed at a younger age."

Being active enhances self-esteem, body image and overall well-being. Furthermore, exercising with the family provides a safe, emotional environment for kids, because they are less likely to be ridiculed by peers about their performance level, LaBella explains. "Working out together enhances so many aspects of the family relationship. It gives parents the opportunity to praise their kids and show them they are proud of their efforts."


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