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July 1996

Historic Surgeon General's Report Offers New View of
Moderate Physical Activity

Regular moderate physical activity offers substantial benefits in health and well-being for the vast majority of Americans who are not physically active, according to the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health released today. The report, which was commissioned by HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala, also concludes that regular moderate physical activity can substantially reduce the risk of developing or dying from heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure.

 

"This report is a passport to good health," said Vice President Al Gore. "In the 1950s, we emphasized the health benefits of team sports. In the 1970s, we focused on intensive aerobic exercise. Now, in the 1990s, a compilation of scientific research offers an historic new perspective on the importance of regular moderate physical activity for virtually all Americans."

 

"The good news is you don't have to train like an Olympic athlete to enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle," Secretary Shalala said. "Walking, bicycling, or even gardening for at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week is good for your health and good for your future."

 

Acting Surgeon General Audrey F. Manley, M.D., said, "This report is nothing less than a national call to action. Physical inactivity is a serious nationwide public health problem, but active and healthful lifestyles are well within the grasp of everyone."

 

The report defines moderate physical activity as physical activity that uses 150 calories of energy per day, or 1,000 calories per week. Examples of moderate physical activity include walking briskly for 30 minutes, swimming laps for 20 minutes, washing and waxing a car for 4560 minutes, and pushing a stroller 1 miles in 30 minutes.

 

In addition to reducing the risk of developing chronic illnesses, the report notes that regular participation in physical activity appears to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance ability to perform daily tasks throughout life.

 

The report contains a number of key findings in addition to the health benefits of regular moderate physical activity.

More than 60 percent of adults do not achieve the recommended amount of physical activity, and 25 percent of adults are not physically active at all. Inactivity increases with age and is more common among women than men and among those with lower income and less education than among those with higher income or education.

For people who are already moderately active, greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount (duration, frequency, or intensity) of physical activity.

Among young people aged 1221, almost 50 percent are not vigorously active on a regular basis. Female adolescents are much less physically active than male adolescents. Physical activity declines dramatically with age during adolescence.

High school students' enrollment in daily physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995. Only 19 percent of all high school students are physically active for 20 minutes or more in physical education classes every day during the school week.

Promising approaches to promoting physical activity are being tried in communities around the country, including increasing physical activity in physical education classes; counseling people about physical activity by their health care providers; and creating appealing places for people to be physically active, such as outdoor walking paths. More community-led efforts are needed.

David Satcher, M.D., director, CDC, which produced the report, stated, "Improving health through physical activity is a key public health challenge that we must hasten to meet. The stakes are high, and the potential rewards are great -- preventing premature death, unnecessary illness, and disability; controlling health care costs; and maintaining a high quality of life into old age." The CDC has launched a national physical activity initiative to provide scientific and technical leadership to spur the development of effective programs and policies to increase physical activity in schools, work sites, parks, recreation facilities, and communities.

"The release of this report comes at a time when many Americans are enjoying the anticipation of the Centennial Olympic Games. But you needn't be an Olympic athlete to enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle," noted Sandra Perlmutter, executive director of the President's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, a collaborating partner with the CDC. "As the report's call to action clearly applies to all Americans, the PCPFS continues its grassroots programs and initiatives that have touched the lives of millions of school-aged children, educators, physically-challenged individuals, ethnic and racial minorities, and seniors for 40 years."


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