Obesity is on the rise in the United States.  Over one-third of the population is overweight, and approximately 15 % of the population can be considered obese.  Moreover, one-quarter of American children are overweight and one in ten are severely overweight, a large increase over a relatively short period.

One of the factors contributing to this increased prevalence is inactivity.  The American lifestyle is conducive to inactivity.  First, most jobs are sedentary. Second, automobiles, public transportation, and laborsaving devices allow sluggish lifestyles.  Third, people are watching television more than ever.  One-quarter of children watch 4 or more hours of TV a day.  Increasing activity in our daily schedules can play an important role in helping overweight people both lose and manage their weight.

Exercise and Weight

Exercising more often increases the amount of calories burned.  In fact, a beginning exerciser may expend energy at a rate 5 to 7 times above a resting level.  Moreover, active individuals may have a slightly higher metabolic rate (they burn more calories throughout the day at rest) than their inactive counterparts.  But, losing weight involves not only increasing activity levels, but also decreasing calories in the diet, specifically calories from fat.  Studies have shown that combining both exercise and diet modifications in a weight loss program is superior to attempting to lose weight with either diet or exercise alone.

Why don’t people exercise?

Most people recognize that regular exercise is important for general health and weight management.  People aren’t active for several reasons.  First, they have little time to exercise.  Long work days, hectic schedules, and children, to name a few, prevent people from finding time to exercise.  Along with this, a lot of people lack enjoyment from exercise; why do it if it isn’t fun?  Finally, some people feel they are unable to exercise vigorously, or are embarrassed at taking part in activities.

Ways to Increase Activity

It is recommended that all individuals should attempt to accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity most (or all) days of the week.  Here are a few ways to increase activity for sedentary people, especially those who don’t enjoy traditional activity.

  • Split up the 30 minutes of exercise recommended daily into smaller segments.  This may result in better adherence and increased weight loss.

  • "Lifestyle Activity" is a concept that encourages people to look for opportunities throughout the day to increase activity.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Parking the car at the far end of the lot and walking

  • Outdoor work around the house: mowing the lawn, raking leaves, gardening, washing the car

  • Indoor house work:  cleaning, vacuuming, dishwashing

  • Use stairs instead of elevators/escalators

  • Walk during lunch breaks

  • Play with toddlers or pets

These lifestyle activities have recently been proven to be as effective as a structured exercise program in improving physical activity, aerobic fitness, and blood pressure in sedentary adults.  They also may be a great initial choice for obese individuals who do not have time for traditional exercise or for those who do not enjoy exercise.

Once individuals have undergone lifestyle activities for some time they may gain the confidence they need to attempt a more vigorous exercise program.  Exercise prescription for obese individuals starting a more traditional exercise program should involve cardiovascular fitness, strength training, lifestyle activity, and flexibility exercises.  Obese individuals should start slowly, especially with cardiovascular exercises.  They should work with their physicians to develop an appropriate target heart rate range.  A good starting regimen may include aerobic exercise for 20-40 minutes 3 to 5 days a week, weight training 2 to 3 days a week, and flexibility training 2 to 3 days a week.

Finally, as mentioned previously, start slowly; not only for health reasons, but also to not become overwhelmed too quickly.  Also, it is imperative for individuals to contact their primary care physician so she/he can help customize an activity program, whether it be a formal exercise program, or additional ideas for "lifestyle activities."