2011 Health and Fitness Updates From the Experts

Each year, more than 5,000 health professionals gather at the Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM; www.acsm.org). At this year's meeting, exercise physiologists, sports medicine doctors, and sports nutritionists shared their research and offered updates. Here are three updates that might be of interest.

The Power of Exercise

"Exercise is medicine" is the slogan for ACSM's public health campaign to teach people the importance of living an active lifestyle "Exercise is better than medicine" would also be a good slogan.! According to Dr. Karim Khan of the University of British Columbia, lack of physical activity is the biggest public health problem in the 21st century. (I know, I am "preaching to the choir" because you are undoubtedly already active. But I'm sure you have friends and loved ones who spend too much time on the couch. Please pass this message along to them.)

We know that exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, dementia, and other diseases of aging. But what most people don't know is 16 percent of North Americans will die from low fitness/sedentary lifestyle. That's more than the 14 percent of people who will die from "smokerdiabesity" (smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined). (1)

If exercise is so good for us, why are so many people failing to exercise regularly? And how can we get them to exercise by choice? Incentives work in the short term. That is, employees who get a discount on their health insurance premium will initiate an exercise program. But in the long term, people maintain an exercise program if it gives them pleasure, makes them feel good about themselves, improves their mood, and offers friendship.

Wanna-be exercisers should take weight loss out of the equation. That is, if they are exercising just to lose weight, what happens when they reach their goal? They'll still need to keep exercising to maintain that fat loss, so they had better start a program they are interested in doing for the rest of their lives.

Just as MDs monitor blood pressure and weight, they should also monitor physical activity. Thanks to ACSM's Exercise is Medicine campaign, doctors are now encouraged to prescribe exercise to their overfat, underfit, (pre)diabetic clients. Doctors can tell patients how often, how hard, and how long to exercise. This written prescription has been shown to help improve exercise compliance.

Nutrition for Injuries

Unfortunately, part of living an active lifestyle seems to include injury. Athletes with injuries should pay attention to their diet. If they are petrified of gaining weight (yes, petrified is a strong word, but it seems fitting to many injured athletes who seek my counsel), they may severely restrict their food intake. One runner hobbled into my office saying, "I haven't eaten in two days because I can't run?"

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