Which Americans get enough exercise? Not most teenagers, who spend much of their spare time texting or playing computer games. Not most white-collar workers, who generally sit at their desks. Not most blue-collar workers, who often have traded manual labor for seats on labor-saving machines.
Most of us have become far too sedentary for good health. Part of the problem is that too many of us revert to the excuses that exercise takes time and feels like work and can be expensive. Health club fees, special sports clothing and exercise equipment such as stationary bikes and treadmills all cost money.
For all the millions of dollars that Americans spend each year on fitness, most of them don’t get enough physical activity to maintain a healthy body weight and protect themselves adequately against obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes.
A public health specialist, Toni Yancey, says in her new book “Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time” that exercise can be pleasant and cheap. The health services professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles prefers to call it “physical activity” and says it can be fun. She seeks to spread the idea of regular brief stretch breaks or fitness breaks throughout the country.
A former basketball player and model, Dr. Yancey wants to involve the entire population rather than just the minority who now jog and hike and do sit-ups and play sports.
In Maine, several organizations got started ahead of her. L.L. Bean has been using “stretch breaks” for its production workers since 1982. It stops its assembly line three times a day for the breaks and reports that increased productivity more than makes up for the downtime.
Cianbro and the Maine Department of Transportation have similar programs, says Jaime Laliberte, director of the Fitness Council of Maine.
Dr. Yancey, who says, “What’s good for the waistline is good for the bottom line,” describes systems of short physical activity breaks as help for the economy and a way to combat an epidemic of “sedentary behavior disorder.” She says her competition, “fierce, probably unmanageable,” is cars, screens, gaming and hand-held gizmos.
Diet plans, pills and supplements, often costly, get most of the attention, but regular physical activity — at the gym, outdoors, at your desk — is what matters more. Additional organizations should take it up for their own, their employees’ and the national good.