Experts point to a complex set of reasons for the current epidemic of overweight and unprecedented obesity in America. They include a rise in soft drink consumption, bigger food and beverage portions, the increase in daily screen time-from TV and computers to video games, and a decrease in recommended physical activity.
As children go back to school, they can easily go back to a more sedentary lifestyle that is becoming the norm for many Americans. Social and environmental changes have added to the inactive lifestyles. Neighborhoods have fewer sidewalks, more neighborhoods feel unsafe, fewer children walk to school, we spend more time in cars, and we're eating fewer meals at home. We find ourselves less active and sitting more in front of TV or computer screens as we work, study, shop, socialize, and seek entertainment.
In fact according to a recent American Cancer Society study, sitting too much may shorten the average life span. Published in July's American Journal of Epidemiology, research showed exercise, even a little per day, lowered the mortality risk tied to sitting.
Tamara Sheffield, MD, Intermountain Healthcare director of Community Health, chooses to accentuate the positive. "It's true," she says. "We live in a different world than our parents and grandparents did, but with some awareness and effort, it's not all that difficult to build activity back into our daily lives." Sheffield points out that everyone can benefit from regular exercise-walking, running or working out for at least 30 minutes five days a week. "With a little bit of planning, anyone can build more calorie-burning and strengthening activities into everyday life."
As part of Intermountain Healthcare's "LiVe" campaign, an educational program designed to give kids, teens and families "8 Healthy Habits to Live By," Sheffield offers these tips for meeting the challenges of today's sedentary lifestyles:
- Shopping at the mall? Walk around it three times on foot before you begin your spree.
- Invite kids to help you wash the car, by hand.
- Mow the lawn with a non-power mower.
- Pull weeds by hand or get the whole family involved in raking leaves and putting them in bags.
- Ride bikes to and from school with your kids.
- Don't drive when you can walk — to shops, school, and work. If you do drive, park farther away from your destination.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
- If you work in an office building, use the restrooms on a different floor, and take the stairs.
- Exercise or stretch while watching TV.
- Put the TV remote away in a drawer.
- Stand up while talking on the phone. Go ahead and pace!
- Make social occasions more active. Instead of just dining out, walk to and from the restaurant, or plan on going dancing, bike riding, or hiking.
- Start a family tradition of a neighborhood walk before or after dinner. Invite kids to bring their scooters or bikes along.
- Create a "walking carpool." Take turns walking your kids and your neighbor's kids to and from school.
Parents and teens can find more expert advice on diet, activity and attitudes about weight management at IntermountainLiVe.org