American Health: The Shape of the Union

Despite a wealth of information about living a healthy lifestyle, many Americans aren't doing enough physical activity. Plus, updates on the best aerobic exercise machine, vitamins for energy, biking’s connection to impotence, a link between PMS and caffeine, and the American Heart Association’s new food rating system.

| November/December 1989

When it comes to the fitness of body, mind, or spirit, the editors of American Health are there, staying on top of the latest in medical research, separating fad from fact, and helping you preserve and improve life's most precious gift, your good health. Yet, despite a wealth of information on living a healthier life, many Americans seem to be missing the point. 

American Physical Activity Statistics

"The United States has failed in fulfilling its fitness goals and expectations," concludes Krys Spain, research and program development specialist for the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, who has been monitoring the nation's progress in meeting objectives set by health experts in 1979. Two of these goals were to have 60% of children aged 10 to 17 participating daily in school physical education programs and 60% of adults participating in regular vigorous physical activity.

Perhaps the most serious failure involves children. In 1984 the Department of Health and Human Services found that only 36% of children aged 10 to 17 had daily physical education classes available to them—a marginal 3% increase over 1975 statistics. "One of the factors is money," Spain comments. "When federal and state education budgets are cut, the first thing to go is gym class." Only one state—Illinois—requires daily physical education classes for children.

As for adults, data from studies done between 1984 and 1987 indicate that only 8% of the total population participates in regular vigorous physical exercise. That number doesn't jibe with other studies that show well over half the nation's population get some kind of regular exercise. Why the discrepancy?

"A lot of the problem may be in definition," says Spain. "What we define as regular vigorous activity—three times a week for 20 minutes a session, at 60% of maximum aerobic capacity—may be much more than what most people think of as 'regular vigorous activity.' " They may be playing softball, taking walks, or simply mowing the lawn or climbing a few flights of stairs.

Spain also points out that most people who do exercise on a regular basis are in the middle-income sector and are well educated.

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