According to a Health and Healthcare poll conducted by the Gallup Organization in 2009, 55% of Americans would like to lose weight, but only 27% are seriously pursuing weight-loss. Even though it is estimated that Americans spend around 40 billion dollars a year in weight-loss products and programs, their long-term effectiveness is somewhat questionable because many people regain two-thirds of the weight lost within one year.
Finding Meaningful Reasons to be Physically Active
You already know that regular exercise is important for the maintenance of good health. But even with all the evidence, you still don’t seem to be able to lead an active lifestyle, do you? You are not alone. A large percentage of the American population does not engage in physical activities on a regular basis, and this is especially true for women. I don’t believe that women don’t exercise because they are simply lazy, but because they can’t find meaningful reasons to change.
Starting a new exercise program is easy when compared to maintaining an exercise routine for the long run. That is so true; we do it every year. When the holiday season ends and a new year begins, many of us decide that it is time for a change. We make big plans and get all excited about them. And it works really well for the first few weeks. We push ourselves hard and never miss a training session. We tend to think that if some exercise is good, then more is better. But unfortunately, this leads to overtraining, fatigue, and sometimes injuries. Exercising is not fun anymore and it becomes a burden. We lose the interest in healthy activities, and nothing seems to motivate us anymore. We start using anything as an excuse to skip workouts, and when we least expect, we are back to our old not-so-healthy lifestyle. Why does this happen?
Recent research points out that people who were physically active as children are more likely to incorporate regular exercise into their lifestyle as adults. You are probably familiar with all the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle such as general health and fitness improvements, weight control, and reduced risk for several chronic diseases. However, when it comes to your kids’ activity needs, things tend to get a bit confusing.
A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that the majority of Americans live with moderate to high levels of stress. Money, work and the economy were the most often cited sources of stress. And the modern lifestyle is not helping. Consider, for instance, our current life pace. It is hard to think of someone that is not repeatedly overwhelmed by all the tasks, chores, and appointments with which one has to deal in one day.
Americans are becoming more and more sedentary. Working at a desk, watching television, playing videogames, and driving everywhere are just a few examples of common sedentary behaviors. What I mean is that most of us are not physically active at our jobs, during our leisure-time or any other time of the day, just because we don’t need to. We are not even walking anymore. Did you know that a sedentary person may only take between 1,000 and 3,000 steps a day? This is way less than the Surgeon General’s recommendation. I know that many American cities are not exactly walking-friendly. Think about where you live for a second. Are there stores within walking distance, or do you have to drive to the closest grocery shop? My point is that unless you are willing to exercise, you probably won’t run errands on foot.
The way of life changed considerably during human evolution. When our species appeared on Earth, humans were hunters and gatherers and had to work hard for their food. It was common to move from place to place, looking for provisions and shelter. Also, food preserving was precarious (canned food was not available!), and they never knew when they would be able to find fresh supplies. These tough conditions contributed to an important body adaptation: any energy consumed but not promptly used was stored, mostly as fat. This was a fundamental factor that guaranteed the survival of our species. So fat used to have a vital function to us – it was supposed to save us from famine.
American society wants you to lose weight. The cultural standards of beauty and self-worth praise extremely thin bodies that are not a reality for most Americans. At the same time, the social prejudice against fat people increases every day. We’ve been taught that we have to be thin to be healthy, socially accepted and loved. But what America’s weight obsession really taught us is to hate our bodies.
How many times have you started (and given up) an exercise program? Don’t be ashamed; you are not alone. According to ACE (American Council on Exercise) data, 50% to 65% of persons beginning or returning to a standard exercise program will drop out during the first six months. Even though the statistics are not encouraging, don’t give up just yet. You are not set up for failure unless you believe so. Your mind is a powerful tool; it can work for or against you. All you need to learn is how to use it in your favor.