Couch potato lifestyle takes a big bite out of health

October 14, 2003

This year the theme of the National Health Education Week on October 20-26 is "Physical Activity - every step counts." In support of this the Oregon Research Institute scientists urge people of all ages to get moving.

"Let's face it - American adults are overweight, American children are overweight, and even our pets are overweight," says ORI scientist John Fisher, Ph.D. "Our couch potato way of life is catching up with us. Being overweight and physically inactive accounts for over 300,000 premature deaths a year in the United States. Parents can be role models for their kids simply by being more active themselves, and parents get healthier in the bargain!"

National Health Education Week was designated by the National Center for Health Education to focus Americans on healthier living. ORI scientists, with the aid of federal grants totaling $5.2 million, are studying different ways to help people of all ages to get off the couch and overcome obstacles to becoming more physically active.

In one project involving adolescents, ORI scientist Susan Duncan, Ph.D., has found that families and neighborhoods can have a profound impact on the activity of youth.

"There are clear physical, mental and social benefits to be gained from youth physical activity. However, we typically see huge declines in activity during adolescence, and these trends continue into adulthood," notes Duncan. "So it's extremely important to find ways to keep youth involved in and enjoying physical activity," adds Duncan, "Our research suggests that increasing family support and neighborhood opportunities for physical activity might be one way to do this."

In another study involving nearly 600 elderly residents from 56 neighborhoods, Fisher found that weekly, peer-led walking groups of senior citizens improved quality of life and increased overall physical activity in neighborhoods. Still another research project led by scientist Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., demonstrated that doing low impact exercises such as Tai Chi two or three times a week improves balance, mobility, sleep quality, and reduces the risk of falling among older adults.

"It is so very important to stay physically active as we age," Fisher notes. "Maintaining an active lifestyle that includes some regular physical activity is like free health insurance - it helps prevent costly doctors bills. Inactivity is linked to the four big killers of our grandparents - heart disease, cancer, stroke and falls."

To improve your physical and mental well-being, researchers offer these tips for becoming more physically active:
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Oregon Research Institute is a non-profit behavioral research organization located in Eugene, Oregon. It was founded in 1960.

Oregon Research Institute

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