We are in the midst of a public health epidemic. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, stress/anxiety are all at record levels. And this is all the result of lifestyle behavior that can be changed with simple changes in exercise and diet. The latest studies and newest research points to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle as being a large component to the rise of these diseases. Not only do most Americans sit on the couch and watch TV, surf the net and chat with their friends on social media sites after work, they spend more time sitting in a chair while at work than ever before. The call has gone out from public health experts to help Americans become more active!
And what has been the response from the fitness industry? Workouts like P90 X, Insanity, Spinning, Boot-camps and Cross Fit. All things that the average, out-of-shape American can’t or simply won’t do (Seriously, in one commercial for a fitness program, the guy giving a testimonial says “the first time I did this workout I actually threw up!” Even I don’t want to do that workout!). Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these programs. I’m a fitness professional and on the right days, I love a good Cross Fit class or a spin class with lots of hill climbs. But my wife, who is not in love with fitness, would rather have her next pelvic exam broadcast live on Fox News than do any of these things. Most of the people who truly need our help fall in my wife’s camp and not mine.
I think the problem for most fitness professionals is that for them, my wife’s point of view is hard to understand. When you truly love something it’s hard to believe that others don’t feel the same way about it as you do. But the numbers don’t lie. Only 16% of Americans exercise regularly and most don’t exercise at all.
I believe that the fitness industry needs to spend far more time and energy wooing the 84% into being more active as opposed to dreaming up new fad workouts to keep the 16% from getting bored with what they’re already doing. This task really shouldn’t be that tough since the newest research shows that low to moderate activity done regularly over the course of a week can have a huge positive effect on a person’s overall health.
The risk of developing all of those diseases drops dramatically with the correct mix of the right exercises. People who don’t exercise don’t want to get beat up or throw up. They need to move. They need guidance, motivation and support. And a simple part of the right exercise prescription is to just sit LESS! The more a person moves around– even doing mundane things like going to the water cooler or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking a short stroll during lunch, or hand delivering a message to a coworker instead of hitting “send” on the keyboard, the healthier they get. There are even simple exercises that can be done at the desk, that don’t take much time, yet effectively improve blood flow, balance, strength, flexibility and even productivity.
We need to welcome the non-exercising 84% of the country to being active. Give them something they can actually do and feel successful by having done it. We need to make them feel comfortable, safe and successful. We’re not training competitive athletes. No tush tightening, no 6-pack abs, no bulging biceps. I’m talking about helping people lower their risk of developing life-changing deadly diseases, and I think that is a much higher calling. Plus, the 84% are impacting all of us in terms of the costs of health insurance and overall national productivity. We need to see this as an urgent health crisis, kind of like how the approach to smoking has evolved since the 1970’s. Teaching kinder and gentler forms of exercise that more people can do no matter what their shape or size will improve the health of everyone–not just the 16% who already believe.