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Getting physically fit is a good way to start '04


HEADED FOR a gym yet? Hey, it's another new year. This is the time when Howard County's athletic clubs and other fitness places get busiest and then, by the time the month ends, see a decline as the resolve to solve one's weight problem dissolves.

Gleaned from various organizations interested in your health - which no one denies relates to the state of your fitness, regardless of age - are some points to chew on instead of more, tasty holiday leftovers.

For the young: Nearly a quarter of children between the ages of 6 and 17 in the United States are overweight, an increase of 6 percent since the 1970s.

More ominously, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63 percent of all adolescents in this country show two or more of five major risk factors for chronic disease, and that's the potential for not only personal problems as kids become adults, but also a national health problem.

"Evidence shows that these risk factors remain and often increase in severity as young people age into adulthood - unless we do something," a study from the agency says.

What to do?

Well, the answer isn't all fun and games, and even if it were, that wouldn't solve the problem for many children, who simply aren't interested or good at sports - or think they're not.

However, says a surgeon general's finding, "moderate increases in physical activity result in significant improvements in fitness and health. Yet only one-half of America's youths exercise vigorously, and 25 percent don't exercise at all."

"Moderate increases in physical activity" can mean, for example, merely doing a lot more walking (which makes one wonder why Howard County school buses often drop off kids at one place, drive less than 100 yards, drop off a few more, drive maybe 300 yards and drop off a few more ... but our mind wanders).

It also can mean developing at a young age an appreciation for how dancing, swimming, hitting a golf ball or a tennis ball, or just doing aerobics for fun can make the body and mind feel better.

This is the kind of approach to physical education you'll find in public schools. But that's a topic for another day.

The other primary answer to improving the fitness of young people lies at home, in school cafeterias and in fast-food restaurants: That's the quality of diet and the quantity of food being eaten. When you get right down to it, regardless of whether you're listening to Weight Watchers or federal government researchers or Atkins advocates, we eat too darned much. And, save for the Atkins folks, all of those interested in weight loss say we eat way too much fatty stuff.

For adults, particularly those who have accumulated too many sedentary years: The National Institutes of Health figures that more than half of American adults are overweight, and nearly a quarter by 30 or more pounds.

From personal experience, you can take it off, folks. And for the same reasons that kids should take it off, so should you - and fast, because you have fewer years left with a higher risk for serious disease. Among other serious diseases, in the nation, some sources say, is the sharp rise in diabetes II diagnosis, largely affiliated with girth.

But taking the weight off is difficult because to do it you need to break long-held habits. You may need education on what constitutes healthy diet, you need stick-to-it-iveness, you need support at home and you need willpower. You don't necessarily need lots of money, although AARP points out that getting people to lose weight has become a $33 billion industry in this country.

"One of the main reasons Americans are gaining weight is that they're not active enough," says AARP. "About 34 percent of us over age 50 get no physical activity."

But, the lobbying group points out, echoing every other reliable weight-loss entity: "You lose weight by using more calories than you eat (or eating less than you use.)"

Lots of fitness sources say you needn't commit to hours of physical torture to improve fitness and to help control weight. AARP says that "a minimum 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week is a good way to begin, especially if you're just starting out or haven't been active in awhile. You can do two, 15-minute or even three, 10-minute sessions of physical activity if 30 minutes is too much at first. Stair-climbing, brisk walking, and swimming are moderate physical activities."

Bottom line: If you've resolved to lose weight and boost your fitness in 2004, stick to it, because it's the sensible thing to do.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com.

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