Lack of commitment is the enemy to exercise, experts say

WASHINGTON (AP) The fitness instructor has heard the exercise excuses, and she doesn't accept them.

As director of training for the Bally Total Fitness health club chain, Seven Boggs' job is to keep people who took up exercise with the new year from giving up.

Bally naturally tries to keep track of who is going out America's gym doors as well as who is coming in. Every year, 100 million Americans resolve to get fit, and 40 percent break their resolutions by February, the company said.

"The number one excuse I get is time. The person doesn't have the time to work out," Boggs said. "The second is a lot of folks don't see the results as quickly as they want. The average person wants quick everything."

For Boggs, time is an excuse. She believes the real problem is commitment "to make each person understand that the only way they will have time is if they make time."

She suggests that early risers can head to the club before they head to work, and night owls can stop at the club before they settle in at home.

This year's resolutions assume new importance in light of new studies on obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 20.9 percent of adults were obese in 2001, up from 19.8 percent in 2000.

The constant rise in obesity is a big reason why CDC also found diabetes is rising, researcher Ali Mokdad said in a study in the Jan. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A study in JAMA one week later documented the danger in terms of shortened lifespan. At the extreme, very obese black men around 20 years of age could die up to 20 years sooner than their normal-weight counterparts, a researcher said.

Another report, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that at 40, people who were overweight but not obese could die at least three years sooner than those who are slim. Dutch researchers found that association in residents of Framingham, Mass.

Other researchers have found that even if people don't lose weight, they can reduce their chances of an early death by taking up exercise.

Studies at the Cooper Institute, a Dallas-based research organization that focuses on exercise, have found that the highest risk of early death is among the 20 percent of people who get the least physical activity.

People who want fast results have to be re-educated.

"They have to understand that their body works on a monthly basis. Every four or five weeks, they see results," Boggs said.

Clubs realize that members join largely because they notice a weight gain, especially after the holidays. They hope to retain members by combining diet with the exercise, and having trainers monitor both.

The programs start with an assessment of fitness and body fat, so the client has a benchmark against which to measure any progress.

At the 24 Hour Fitness chain, for instance, new exercisers bring the trainer a diary that shows everything they have eaten for the past three days.

At Bally's, trainers measure the client's resting metabolic rate how many calories are burned while sitting still and base the meal and exercise plans on that. The trainers use a device that analyzes the client's exhaled breath for its proportion of oxygen.

The body uses oxygen as it burns calories, so people with higher metabolic rates use more oxygen and exhale less of it.

To keep new members from dropping out, clubs are promoting personal trainers as exercise nannies.

"If you embrace (clients), there is a lot less likelihood of them falling off the wagon," said Kevin Steele, vice president of health services for 24 Hour Fitness.

An exercise buddy might stand in for a trainer in keeping the new exerciser from backsliding, said researcher Jessie Jones of California State University, Fullerton. The commitment to work out with someone can help to turn exercise into a habit, she said: "As long as they have a buddy system, they can get around the laziness."

The activity must be fun, because people don't get lazy at what they like to do, said Colin Milner, chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging, an advocacy group for seniors.

And new exercisers ought to build in extra motivation, such as an occasional dessert, even if they have to burn off the calories later, Milner said. His rationale: "I've been good all week long, there's no reason why I should not reward myself."

A club's baseline assessment and the attention of a personal trainer can help a beginner adjust to exercise, but other experts say simpler and cheaper methods also can work.

A pedometer, a device that counts footsteps, shows how much physical activity a person gets just by walking around.

Simply walking more can be an easy way to get healthful activity in your life, said Steven Blair, president and chief executive officer of the Cooper Institute.

A sedentary person might start with 2,500 steps a day.

"We say that's your baseline, and now set a goal," Blair said.

A typical goal would be to increase the walking, in 500-step increments, until the person reaches a typical target of 10,000 steps a day.

More reading:

CDC news release on obesity and diabetes:

CDC physical activity and health site:

Abstract of JAMA article on obesity and years of life lost:

Abstract of Annals article on obesity and years of life lost:

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