By now, most people have heard about or read the “Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General,” which concludes that a lack of physical activity is detrimental to health.

Noting that 300,000 people died in 1990 as a result of inactive lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits, the report states that “increasing physical activity is a formidable public health challenge that we must hasten to meet.”

The Surgeon General’s report targets the inactive population (which includes more than 60 percent of American adults) and strongly advises sedentary individuals to become “moderately” active on most days. Moderate activity can produce substantial health benefits, including reduced risk of developing high blood pressure, improved blood lipid levels, reduced risk of developing colon or breast cancer, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced risk of obesity (exercise helps to manage weight), and increased feelings of general well-being.

Here are some examples of moderate activity:
• Washing and waxing the car for 45-60 minutes
• Washing windows or floors for 45-60 minutes
• Playing volleyball for 45 minutes
• Playing touch football for 30-45 minutes
• Gardening for 30-45 minutes
• Wheeling self in wheelchair for30-45 minutes
• Walking 1 ¾ miles in 35 minutes (20 minutes/mile)
• Basketball (shooting baskets) for 30 minutes
• Bicycling 5 miles in 30 minutes
• Dancing fast (social) for 30 minutes
• Pushing a stroller 1 ½ miles in 30 minutes
• Raking leaves for 30 minutes
• Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes (15 minutes/mile)
• Water aerobics for 30 minutes
• Swimming laps for 20 minutes
• Wheelchair basketball for 20 minutes
• Basketball (playing a game) for 15-20 minutes
• Bicycling 4 miles in 15 minutes
• Jumping rope for 15 minutes
• Running 1 ½ miles in 15 minutes (10 minutes/mile)
• Shoveling snow for 15 minutes
• Stair walking for 15 minutes

The less vigorous the activity, the longer you must do it to obtain the exercise benefits.

I have discussed the Surgeon General’s report in previous columns, and I think the message is loud and clear: Moving more leads to living healthier by enhancing the quality of your life and reducing your risk for developing lifestyle diseases. But while the report itself is still “hot off the press,” it is not news that exercise is good for your health.

There have been many studies on exercise and health conducted over the years. For example, I have been in the health and fitness field for more than 20 years and have been reading about – and experiencing – the benefits of exercise for almost that long.

However, education alone is not enough. If it were, we would not be seeing an increase in people smoking cigarettes (especially teenage girls). While most people know that exercise can enhance their health and wellbeing, making the necessary lifestyle changes is another story.

According to an article in American Psychologist (September 1992) titled “In Search of How People Change,” people who are ready to make positive changes in their lives (quitting smoking, losing weight, etc.) will move through stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. Readiness, insight, supportive relationships, reinforcement, commitment and belief in your ability to change all play a role in making permanent, positive lifestyle changes.

Becoming aware is a good first step toward healthier living. No matter what your current health status is, you can improve and enhance your overall wellbeing if you want to and if you’re ready for it.

Exercise tip: To maximize results, be sure to use proper technique, alignment and control. Today’s exercise is the Nautilus leg curl, which works the upper back thigh muscles, known as the hamstrings. There are three muscles in this group: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. It is important not only to strengthen this muscle group, but also to stretch the hamstrings to reduce the risk of injury.

Unless you are under special instructions, perform the Nautilus leg curl as follows: Lie face down on the pad and position your heels under the padded rolls. Your kneecap will be over the edge of the pad, and your toes will be pointed towards your knees. Grasp the handles located on the sides of the machine. While keeping your shoulders and head up, as well as your hips down, slowly curl the roller pads up toward your buttocks. Pause; then ease up on the resistance and slowly lower the roller pad to the starter position. Pause and repeat.

Key points: Use controlled movements. Keep your hips down during the full range of movement, and hold your head and shoulders up accordingly.