The fitness boom was launched in America in the early 1980s by a small group of celebrities, including Jane Fonda, who recognized the importance of exercise for long-term health and well-being.
Although their methods were flawed, their vision was important. Over the past 30 years the notion of fitness as a valuable end in itself has persisted in the public consciousness. But for the most part, people do not take action on their own behalf in this critical area.
In a typical scenario, a person will finally decide to begin a plan to shed the 30 or more pounds of excess weight he or she has been carrying around for too many years to count. In a whirlwind of activity, the person joins a gym, buys a pair of snazzy cross-trainers, stylish new workout shorts, and tank tops, and even purchases 10 grueling sessions with a personal trainer. After this initial burst of enthusiasm, the typical fitness-seeking person will lose interest in 30 days. Health clubs across the globe rake in their profits from new member initiation fees, knowing full well that most new gym members discontinue their efforts within four to six weeks.
But fitness matters. And from an even broader perspective, lifestyle matters. In 2007, heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease (including stroke and hypertension), and pulmonary disease accounted for more than 60% of the 2.4 million deaths in the United States.1 It is now well-recognized that each of these diseases and conditions is specifically a lifestyle disease. With respect to cancer, less than 10% of cases are due to an inherited condition. The rest are a result of lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption. overweight and obesity, and lack of exercise.2
With respect to your long-term health, one key action step is to engage in regular vigorous exercise. If you haven't exercised in many years, daily walks are a good way to begin your life-long exercise program. Start with a modest 10-minute walk and build up over six to eight weeks to a daily 30-minute walk. Once you're walking 30 minutes a day, gradually increase your daily pace. When you've achieved a quick 30-minute daily pace and can maintain your schedule comfortably, you may begin to alternate strength-training workouts with your walks.
Fitness is not only a critical lifestyle enhancer, it is also a state of mind. People who are fit want to stay fit. A person who becomes fit usually discovers that he has begun to choose healthy food rather than junk. Frosted doughnuts, candy bars, and twisted ropes of raspberry-flavored sugar lose their allure and appeal. Organic trail mix, organic apples, and protein smoothies become preferred snacks. Persons who take on a fitness lifestyle find themselves losing weight, naturally and easily. No stress-inducing diets. No drastic weight loss. The pounds just fall away because the person is exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.3
Now-fit people never want to put that weight back on again. The healthy lifestyle becomes the preferred lifestyle.
1Xu J, et al: Deaths. Final data for 2007. Natl Vital Stat Rep 58(19), May 20, 2010
2Kirkegaard H, et al: Association of adherence to lifestyle recommendations and risk of colorectal cancer: a prospective Danish cohort study. Brit Med J October 26, 2010 (Epub ahead of print)
3Brietzke SA: A personalized approach to metabolic aspects of obesity. Mt Sinai J Med 77(5):499-510, 2010