Surgeon General’s Report: Sedentary Lifestyle Hazardous to Your Health

The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health has made one thing perfectly clear: a sedentary lifestyle is damaging the health of Americans and bears responsibility for the growing obesity problem in this country.

The report's primary message is that Americans can substantially improve their health and quality of life by including moderate amounts of physical activity in their daily lives. In fact, regular exercise reduces a person’s risk of premature death, as well as the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and other diseases, the report said.

The report emphasizes that the amount rather than the intensity of physical activity is important, offering people more options for incorporating physical activity into their daily lives. Thus, a moderate amount of activity can be obtained in a 30-minute brisk walk, for example, or in separate periods of raking leaves and playing with the dog. This draws on research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Exercise Alone Not a Magic Bullet

It is important for consumers to remember, however, that experts haven’t changed their advice that balancing physical activity with food intake is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. This combined approach reaps other health benefits as well.

"The health benefits of regular physical activity alone are real, and the Surgeon General’s report confirms this," said John Foreyt, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and an obesity expert.

"But exercise alone is not a magic bullet for weight control. The benefits of combining physical activity with calorie control are even greater, including helping America start to make significant progress in stemming the obesity epidemic."

The Surgeon General’s report on physical activity does not address nutritional habits and their effect on health, noting that a separate Surgeon General’s report covers that issue.

The best advice, according to Foreyt: "Remember, calories still count." The current U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and decrease calorie intake if they need to lose weight.

Although Americans have struggled to make these choices, recent developments tracked by Calorie Control Council research give cause for hope. Currently, 92 percent of adults consume light foods and beverages. And the majority of these consumers check nutrition labels on products they buy to determine fat or caloric content.

Among the Surgeon General’s report’s major conclusions are:

  • Low levels of activity, resulting in fewer calories used than consumed, contribute to the high prevalence of obesity in the United States.
  • Physical activity may favorably affect body fat distribution.
  • People of all ages, both male and female, benefit from regular physical activity.
  • More than 60 percent of American adults are not regularly physically active. In fact, 25 percent of all adults are not active at all.
  • Significant health benefits can be obtained by including a moderate amount of physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week.
  • Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity.
  • Physical activity reduces the risk of premature mortality in general, and of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes mellitus in particular.
  • Physical activity also improves mental health and is important for muscles, bones, and joints.
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