May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month! You may or may not love physical activity, but I’d like to give you some things to consider that will hopefully enlighten you and encourage you to take on physical activity through more effective means.
Let’s first discuss a relevant health concern. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years, it is likely that you are aware of the obesity epidemic plaguing our nation and world. Obesity is now recognized as a major health risk factor, as it increases the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and early death.1 The prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008;1 in America today, two-thirds of the adult population is overweight or obese.2
How is this possible? Some fitness experts may suggest that we are not meeting the physical activity guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nutritionists may argue that it is our overall poor dietary habits that are at fault for a growing waistline.
I am not entirely sold on either perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for complying with planned exercise routines and following a balanced diet. Being a certified personal trainer and weight loss specialist, I have seen firsthand some horrifying dietary and exercise habits. Diet and exercise are certainly factors in the equation that provide room for improvement. There are less obvious factors contributing to poor health that our country has yet to identify.
Research suggests that even if you exercise regularly and appear fit and healthy, too much time spent sitting is a distinct and independent risk factor for obesity and metabolic health problems.3 Simply put, if you sit for most of the day (work, driving, TV and computer time, etc.), your marathon training, Crossfit obsession, and religious 5 mile walk after work may be canceled out by your otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
You may feel a bit defensive about this statement. I certainly felt that way—my profession IS exercise. In my defense, I investigated some important trends in America that made sense of this research.
It is my opinion that one unspoken reason we continue to grow in size is due to a cultural shift in the labor force. In 1960, 50% of jobs in America required moderate physical activity versus today’s 20%. The other 80% of jobs are sedentary (desk work) or require only light activity.4
This lifestyle has also translated to our children. If we look at childhood obesity, rates have increased from 5% in 1960 to about 17% today.5 Many schools have cut back on physical education classes and recess, and children are increasingly driven to school rather than walking or biking. In addition, “screen time” has increased, including use of video games, the computer, and watching television.6
How could such seemingly subtle shifts in our society create such massive gains? The sum of energy required (calories burned) to engage in each movement throughout the day is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Our country’s current prevalence of obesity is a reflection of the cultural shift toward less NEAT at work and at home over the last 50 years. Check out the difference in calorie burn you would have just from standing throughout the work day instead of sitting. Keep in mind that 3,500 calories burned equates to about one pound of fat.
What is the solution? Don’t quit your desk job, please. We are intelligent beings—we engineered the equipment that put us in our desks in order to increase productivity and to utilize our unique ability as humans to formulate thoughts. Because of such progress, we are able to accomplish tasks that may have seemed impossible 50 years ago. Our advances in technology are something to embrace. The effect of these advances on our health, however, should not go unnoticed.
Fortunately, increasing NEAT is easier than both starting an exercise program and changing your eating habits.
Try setting an alarm to remind yourself to stand up or go for a short walk.
Position frequently used office items, such as the printer, a couple of feet away from your desk so that you must stand up to use it.
Park your car farther away from your destination, or get off the bus at an earlier stop.
Walk while you talk on the phone.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
When you get home, put on your favorite music and dance with your family or roommates! My personal favorite is playing with my dog for 10 minutes for every hour of sedentary time. Be creative!
If you are interested in promoting lifelong healthy habits and serving as a good example to your friends, family, and co-workers, then check out how you can be NEATer.
If you are looking for more ways to participate in organized activities, check out this link for a list of sports and activities in your area!
Take advantage of the opportunities that you have available to make greater strides toward better health. If nothing else, stand up and take responsibility for your own health.
—Stephanie Taglianetti, Sr. Health and Fitness Specialist, ACE CPT, NASM WLS
1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. What Are the Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity? http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/risks.html
2. Global Health Observatory. Obesity: Situation and Trends. http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/risk_factors/obesity_text/en/.
3. Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. Jul 2010;38(3):105-113.
4. Church TS, Thomas DM, Tudor-Locke C, Katzmarzyk PT, Earnest CP, et al. (2011) Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19657. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019657
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Grand Rounds: Childhood Obesity in the United States. Jan 2011;60(2);42-46. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6002a2.htm.
6. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation. White House Task Force on Childhood Report to the President. May 2010. http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/TFCO_Challenge_We_Face.pdf
Stephanie graduated with her B.A. in Health Promotion and Fitness Management from Rowan University in 2011 and has been at the Campbell Soup Company Health and Fitness Center since January 2012. It is Stephanie’s primary responsibility to promote health and wellness throughout the Campbell community, be it through fitness incentives or lifestyle coaching. Stephanie is the coordinator for Campbell’s “New U” healthy weight program, and she is a certified Weight Loss Specialist through National Academy of Sports Medicine. In the Campbell Health and Fitness Center, she is responsible for leading group exercise classes and conducting personal training with Campbell employees. Stephanie is a certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise and holds specialty certifications in SPINNING, Zumba, Turbo Kick, YogaFit, and Primary Group Exercise through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.