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Consider exercise challenge as means of promoting good family health

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:49 am

For youth, national guidelines for physical activity call for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. The most recent survey indicates that less than 50 percent of youth get 60 minutes of activity five days a week and about one quarter get 60 minutes of activity on all days of the week. Fourteen percent are totally sedentary — have no days during the week when they get 60 minutes of activity. One third of youth spend three or more hours a day playing video or computer games that are not schoolwork related and one third spend three or more hours a day watching television.

For adults the national guidelines for activity call for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Experts recommend five days of 30 minutes of moderate activity or at least three days of 25 minutes of vigorous activity. National surveys indicate that less than half of adults (18 and over) meet the guidelines even though they are much less stringent than those for youth. In addition, surveys have shown that one-third of adults are totally sedentary. Researchers now refer to the “sitting disease” because of the prevalence of chronic disease among people who are totally sedentary, or sit too much.

So what can we do to get people up and moving? A family challenge might be part of the answer. In a previous column I wrote about optimal challenge. Optimal challenge refers to challenging yourself to do something that is a bit harder than normal — so that it is challenging — but not so hard that it seems impossible. To get people, regardless of age, off their seats and on their feet a family challenge is proposed.

Each member of the family makes a pledge to do a certain amount of activity for the week. The pledge is based on a total number of minutes. Minutes must be accumulated in bouts of activity of 10 minutes or longer to count toward the pledge. Research suggests that for health benefits this is necessary.

Make a chart with a row for each family member. Include a box for the pledge (minutes) as well as a box for each day of the week and a weekly total box. Determine a family total pledge at the beginning of the week (sum the pledges for each person). At the end of the week sum the minutes of activity for each family member and then the sum of minutes for all family members combined. Work together as a family to meet the total weekly pledge.

Here are some suggestions for consideration in helping your family meet the challenge (pledge).

• Start gradually. Rather than setting the goal at 60 minutes a day for youth or 30 minutes a day for adults start with a personal number that is more than normal, but not so challenging that you are likely to fail.

• During the week, plan family walks. They score points for all family members.

• Encourage each other to meet the pledge. If circumstances limit one person’s activity another can pick up the slack. You help more this week and I will help more another.

• Include the dog. Studies show that people who have a dog are more active than people who do not. When we walk the dog we walk ourselves. Walk the dog, of if you do not have one, walk a family member.

• Consider national guidelines. The short-term goal is to do more activity than normal. A worthy long-term goal would be to meet national guidelines for all family members.

• Consider step counts as an alternative. If each member of the family has a pedometer you can use steps as an alternative to minutes. For youth a step count of 12,000 per day is considered enough to meet guidelines.

For adults 8,000 to 10,000 is equal to guideline standards. As with minutes, make a pledge below these standards. With success, gradually increase the step pledge with a long-term goal of meeting the step standards. All steps count, but attempts should be made to have several bouts of at least 10 minutes during the day.

National physical activity guidelines were developed to define the amount of activity necessary for good health. Consider the family exercise challenge as means of promoting good family health. Do it for the health of it!

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles B. “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University, author of more than 90 books on fitness and activity, and was the first chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board. For more information on the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, go to

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