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In fitness and in health


How is progress on your new year’s resolution to pay more attention to fitness? Have you gotten that gym membership (and actually used it)? Are you getting a minimum 20-minute brisk walk in every day?

If you have done these things, or other activities like them, then by mid-January you’ve already cleared the first major barrier against a change in lifestyle. Congratulations. Stick with your plans for 90 days and you will join that small majority of Albertans who get enough activity to maintain general health.

If you are over 65 and can claim an active lifestyle, you’re actually in a rather elite minority.

In one of those quickie surveys the media uses to generate news copy, 1,000 Americans over 18 were asked about their new year’s resolutions. The top two areas of personal improvement — by far — concerned personal fitness and personal finance.

I am quite unqualified to speak to issues of personal finance, but I do have an interest in keeping fit and active. So this survey gathered by Yahoo News got my attention.

Although promises of a more active lifestyle topped the list of resolutions, in less than a week more than a third of respondents admitted they had lied to themselves and abandoned their plans.

In just a few days, they quit on their exercise classes or failed to get that membership at a gym they had planned to pick up. The wealth of long-term study in the area of fitness shows that when people make these plans, the drop-off in participation is highest in the first two weeks.

If you don’t make it to that magic 90-day mark, your chances of making a lasting change in lifestyle get really, really slim.

Last week, the Alberta Centre for Active Living released a rather more scientific study of Alberta adults. The research and advocacy group has been doing this survey, every couple years, since 2000.

It showed that physical activity peaked in 2007, when 62 per cent of Albertans reported they got enough exercise to achieve health benefits. This year, it’s 59 per cent.

Remember, this is a generalized number; it doesn’t allow for age, education, income or disability. Adults under 35 are the most active. Full breakdowns are available in their report.

But the generalization does create an understandable picture of Albertans’ health prospects. Fully 94 per cent of people surveyed (considering the margins of error reported, you may as well say everyone but a few cranks) believe that physical activity will reduce their chances of getting a serious health problem.

Instead of serious, we should say costly. The report lists the diseases where medical studies show that regular exercise can help in prevention: premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.

How much of our health-care budget is used in treating these ailments? How many person-years of productivity, how much personal suffering can be allayed, if 94 per cent of Albertans did what they already believe to be the right thing?

Exercise is not a magic pill. It only reduces a statistical risk of any individual per 100,000 people for getting one of these diseases.

But if you’re one for whom the program works, it surely acts that way.

Other scientifically-recorded benefits of exercising in improving mental health, depression, fewer lost days at work, and general well-being are not even counted here.

Nor are studies showing regular vigorous exercise helps the brain build new neural connections involved with memory, and slows the progress of neural degenerative disease like Parkinson’s.

But it seems that getting started, paying attention and sticking with a plan to get more active are the hardest parts.

To alleviate that, the Red Deer Primary Care Network has just begun its annual Trek program to get you to that magic 90-day mark. Go to rdpcn.com, click the Trek link, and register for a 90-day virtual walk around the Hawaiian Islands. You can do this solo, or you can form a team. Teams work best.

Get yourself a pedometer and make yourself walk 10,000 steps a day. You can do the equivalent in other activity, through a calculator on your online Trek map. Even doing housework counts (a benefit for me).

Log in regularly to record your progress. That’s important. Daily is best.

In 90 days, you will have “travelled” 900 km — maybe even more. And you will have cleared all the major hurdles that keep you from a real change in lifestyle. Measure the benefits yourself.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

 
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