Tuesday, November 13, 2018

America Fails at Fitness

If you didn’t know any better, you would think that today’s Americans are physically fit. After all, they have all joined gyms. They all take long hikes in the mountains. They are fanatical about attending exercise classes, from spinning to soul cycling to yoga to pilates. And you would also assume that younger health-conscious schoolchildren are even more fit than their sedentary parents. After all, they have gym class and endless sports.

If such was your thought, you would be wrong. According to new fitness standards, developed by the government, Americans are anything but fit. Two thirds of adults are not fit. They might worship the gods of health, but they are all talk and no action.

And four fifths of children suffer from the indolent sloth. We like to think that children are out on the playing field every day after school, playing soccer or badminton. Apparently, such is not the case.

Less than a third of Americans, and only one in five teenagers, meet new physical fitness guidelines issued by the federal government Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

The guidelines, which officials said could be easily achieved by most, recommend the same level of exercise as the original standards released in 2008 but without the expectation that the physical activity occur in 10-minute blocks.

They call on adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity each week. Children ages 6 through 17 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per day and three sessions of muscle-strengthening per week.
Moderate-intensity activity includes walking briskly, riding a bike on level ground with few hills and playing doubles tennis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Muscle-strengthening activity includes lifting weights, "heavy gardening," such as shoveling, and yoga.

Naturally, this is compromising everyone’s health, either now or eventually:

The guidelines and related reports, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, say the failure to meet the recommended levels of aerobic physical activity leads to nearly $117 billion in annual health care costs and 10 percent of all premature death.

HHS called on employers, the medical care industry, youth sports leaders and technology companies to help get people to be more active.

Still, the lack of what Reebok's director of social responsibility Kathleen Tullie called "actionable or accountability standards" reduce the impact the guidelines can have, she said.

"There is no mechanism in place requiring kids to move during school and holding school’s accountable," said Tullie, founder and executive director of BOKS, a school-based fitness program. "We still prioritize the core academic subjects over the health and wellness of our children. This has to change."

For my part, I am happy to recognize that Reebok has a director of social responsibility. Already, we are all feeling better.

Exercise is not exactly a magic bullet, but it is close. It reduces the incidence of breast and colon cancer. But it also reduces the risk of anxiety, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease. And it improves cognitive functioning, as noted in a previous post.

America is leading the world in obesity. It is leading the world in the consumption of opioids. It talks a good game about health. It talks a better game about preserving the environment. It talks its best game about the pristine beauty of nature. Apparently, our love for the natural world does not comprise our love for our bodies. Isn't that where you would want to start?

When the time comes to take a walk or to work out at the gym, the majority of Americans are safely ensconced in their safe spaces, lazy, indolent, slothful… unable to figure out why they feel so sluggish.

It’s not just a health story. It’s a self-delusion story.


Ares Olympus said...

So many interrelated issues, but surely the most important thing is to enjoy being active, and if you see exercise as a burden, you won't do it, especially when you most need it, like when you're under stress and time pressures that try to convince you that you just don't have time. And perhaps for parent, they might have legitimate excuses with all the demands on them, but we all pay for it in the long run.

I'm impressed by Robert Lustig's approach, seeing diet as key, especially seeing that exercise alone is not sufficient for weight loss. You can work hard on the treadmill or spin class for an hour, burn 650 calories and then reward yourself with a 2400 calorie meal at McDonalds for less money than your daily gym membership costs, and eat that meal in 15 minutes if you're in a hurry. That's a problem! So Lustig sees our modern diet as the bigger culprit for our expanding waistlines. And he also points out there's also "skinny fat" people who are not overweight by BMI, but who have unhealthy viseral fat that negatively affects our hormones and energy and they get diabetes just as well as people with higher visible subcutaneous fat.

And what are doctors to do? Fat shaming is now a social taboo, even if it is still done. But its a hard question how to tell someone their choices are killing them very slowly. Lustig avoid fat shaming by blaming our culture and easy access to high sugar, high fat, high salt foods that cause overeating and cravings for more. I'd recommend watching the movie Supersize Me if you want to see how your own body lies to you with insulin crashes which cause us to feel like crap while craving exactly what is causing it in the first place. The extremes at least give you some perspective, while finding moderation is the challenge for all of us in the world of unlimited cheap bad food everywhere.

Anonymous said...

The above gentleman makes the salient point that "the most important thing is to enjoy being active" and is spot on about how society now enables and, dare I say, tacitly approves of obesity, for what reason is beyond comprehension. (Well I remember returning to this country after living abroad and wondering what the hell happened.) The current emphasis on diet (especially regarding the role of sugar) over exercise as the primary means to proper weight is well merited not only scientifically, but also anecdotally.

I would like to additionally point out how enjoying activity is, like playing piano, blowing glass, or any other hobby, limited to a small percentage of the population (whatever individuals who wish to ascribe to themselves this desirable trait may say). Therefore, while thousands of people may belong to a certain gym, most hardly use it. Those who enjoy it, however, are there every day, without fail. You know who they are. But you cannot convince someone to like an activity, so the rest waste their money.

Fitness in modern society is a state of mind that is rare. Necessity does not compel it, and its lack is not profoundly felt until decades on. Today's obesity shares much with yesterday's cigarette smoking.

Phloda said...