Health [...] importance of health and exercise, and where people can find assistance in California. Exercise is an important deterrent to many diseases, including obesity, a plague on the nation. Getting Americans to exercise may be difficult, but the benefits of exercise are clear. People who exercise tend to live longer, have better overall health, and feel better about themselves. In California, many programs are available that will help people develop and maintain healthy lifestyles that include exercise. Education is the key to helping people understand the benefits of exercise, and that education must begin early in life for exercise to become a daily habit. For America to become a healthy country again, people must understand the importance of exercise and good health, and that begins with education and assistance to help people create better, more healthful lives for themselves.
Exercise and good health go hand-in-hand, and yet, in our society today, fewer people are exercising regularly than ever before. The Federal Government chose physical activity as the number one Leading Health Indicator of public concern in America today. In their study, they found "In 1997, only 15% of adults performed the recommended amount of physical activity, and 40% of adult engaged in no physical activity" ("Indicators," 2004). As exercise decreases in the country, so does the country's overall health and well being, as witnessed by the growing problem of obesity in the nation. Exercise from an early age is important in developing the body and the bones, and continuing exercise throughout life adds to physical and psychological well being, and may even help fight depression ("Indicators," 2004). Statistics show that a variety of illnesses can also be aided by regular exercise, including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure ("Indicators," 2004). Clearly, exercise should be an important part of every American's daily routine. Not only is it healthful, it is a deterrent to many of the health problems facing the country today, including obesity and heart disease.
Exercise is an important concern in America because the country is sinking into ill health. This is costly for the government and insurance companies, but even more costly to people and their overall health and well being. Numerous studies have shown that "Exercise makes human bodies stronger, because it increases the blood supply to our brains. Working out builds the mind's muscles. Some evidence in humans suggests that being physically fit helps people maintain their cognitive abilities as they age" (Akande, Van Wyk & Osagie, 2000, p. 758). It has been shown that children who do not exercise regularly do not build up strong skeletons and bone mass, which does not bode well for their future health ("Indicators," 2004). In addition, while most people know exercise can burn calories and aid in weight loss, exercise also oxygenates the blood and lungs, balances insulin levels, and balances pH levels in the body (Akande, Van Wyk & Osagie, 2000, p. 758). Thus, exercise can make an individual look better on the outside, but it can also do wonders for the inside.
Exercise, after all, is a personal choice. If a person chooses not to exercise, there is little anyone can do to change his or her mind. However, insurance companies, employers, the government, and local entities can all promote and encourage exercise in a variety of ways. In California, there are many agencies and initiatives to help people develop an exercise program that works for them, and get help with nutrition and health issues. One statewide group is the California Physical Activity and Health Initiative, on the Web at http://nurseweb.ucsf.edu/iha/pahi.htm. The main office, along with contacts for aging, community health, and employer plans is: 601 North 7th Street, MS675, P.O. Box 942732, Sacramento, CA 94234-7320. You can also email: Steven P. Hooker, Ph.D., Program Chief, Tel:;
Another statewide program that offers information and help through state and local agencies is the 5-a-day Program, based on a national program that encourages good fitness and nutrition in children and adults. Contact information is: 1-888-EAT-FIVE (),
Department of Health Services, Cancer Prevention and Nutrition Section, 1616 Capitol Avenue, PO Box [HIDDEN], MS 7204, Sacramento, CA 94234-7320. Information from this program is also available through most local county agencies throughout California. These are just two of many agencies that provide assistance on nutrition, health, and exercise throughout the state.
There are also many things individuals can do that add up to better health through exercise. Even small steps can lead to better health. Some people believe exercise must be difficult to work, and it cannot be enjoyable, but adding exercise to a daily routine can begin with small things, like walking a dog for fifteen minutes every evening, walking to the local restaurant or mall instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. These small steps often lead to an increased enjoyment of activity, and more activity as the fitness level begins to increase. Even the Center for Disease Control notes, "health benefits appear to be proportional to amount of activity; thus, every increase in activity adds some benefit. Emphasizing the amount rather than the intensity of physical activity offers more options for people to select from in incorporating physical activity into their daily lives" ("Physical activity," 1999). Even moderate exercise can help the overall health of an individual.
Interestingly, many studies have shown that exercise is perceived differently in diverse cultures, and even among genders. For example, women tend to exercise less than men do, and the white population is generally more active than African-Americans and Hispanics. In addition, people in the West tend to exercise more than those in the South and Northeast ("Indicators," 2004). These trends indicate more education is necessary in culturally diverse areas, and in areas that do not seem to encourage exercise among the majority of the population. The elderly are also at risk for lack of exercise. Some are afraid of falls and injuries, and so do not walk in their neighborhoods, but they cannot afford to join a gym or exercise class. Clearly, there must be some other way for this large segment of the population to gain access to exercise. One solution is the So Much Improvement with a Little Exercise (SMILE) Videotape Program, developed specifically with seniors and those unable to do extensive exercising in mind. The thirty-five-minute tape offers stretching exercises, a warm-up and cool-down period, and deep breathing. The only equipment necessary is a VCR and straight-backed chair (Grove & Spier, 1999, p. 182). The need for more programs such as SMILE is quite clear, but there are other things communities can do to encourage exercise and well being. Additional studies have shown that even the design of communities can aid in the general fitness of the community. For example, communities can be designed to encourage walking and bicycling, and one community in Atlanta, designed with fitness in mind, has lower levels of obesity and other health related problems (Rauh, 2003, p. 790). Finally, it is clear education is a key to increasing understanding about the way health and fitness are intertwined.
Education beginning at a young age in the classroom is highly important. Teaching children about nutrition and the basics of exercise can be fun and enlightening. From simple stretching exercises they can do behind their chairs in the classroom, to scientific study of nutritional elements and how they affect the body at an older age, exercise and its' affect on health is an important topic in the classroom, and it should be integrated into science and general education classes every year. The 5-a-day campaign offers educational materials for use in classrooms, and there are numerous educational aids available online and in textbooks. The most important aspect of education is making it fun, and exercise is no exception. If exercise is perceived as enjoyable and fun in the classroom, students are more apt to continue it outside the classroom, and encourage other members of their family to join in the fun.
In addition to classroom education, more studies need to be conducted on exercise and motivation. One study concentrated on the similarities between addiction control and adherence to exercise. The study found that the longer people stick to an exercise program, the less likely they are to stop exercising entirely. It also found that the "five-year" mark is especially important. If people exercise regularly for at least five years, they will probably continue to exercise throughout their lives (Hausenblas, 2004). Therefore, it is imperative that good exercise habits begin early in life, because there are many indicators that they will continue throughout life if begun early. Other studies have shown that young people who exercise regularly also perform better academically and personally. These authors note, "Students with a high level of exercise had better relationships with their parents (including greater intimacy and more frequent touching), were less depressed, spent more time involved in sports, used drugs less frequently, and had higher grade point averages than did students with a low…