Why be average?

Being a health writer, I’ve been peripherally aware of the Healthy People 2010 initiative (if you can call it that). Healthy People is a way for the government to assess various indicators of health every decade, and of course encourage us to do better.

So the last decade was not a stellar one for health: We’ve collectively earned a C…barely. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine says that we’ve met a few goals (19%), but fallen flat in most others. That includes two areas near and dear to my heart: obesity and diabetes.

The goal was to reduce the obesity rate to 15 percent. Well, guess what? We’re right around 33 percent. Whoops! And the rate of diabetes, which was at about 40 cases per 1,000 people in 1997, has risen to 59 cases per 1,000, instead of falling to 25 cases, as planned. Not surprisingly, obesity and diabetes are often linked.

Healthy People 2020 is slated to be unveiled this fall, and a look at the proposed objectives in the “Nutrition and Weight Status” and “Physical Activity and Fitness” categories painted a picture of the harsh reality of how many Americans eat and (don’t) exercise. One of the goals is to reduce the number of Americans who engage in no leisure time physical activity. Currently, around one in four Americans are, well, bonafide couch potatoes.

We can do better than that. With a very few tragic exceptions, we can all get the minimum recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five or more days a week. That’s the length of one sitcom, people, come on! Even those who need to start with 10 minutes a day can get to 30 minutes faster than they think. We’re not talking about becoming athletes here…we’re talking about moving our bodies as they were meant to be moved. You only get one of them, you know. Treat it right!

I’ll leave you with two things.

One, a plea. Please, please, please go for a walk today, even if all you can spare (or handle) is 10 minutes. And do a few gentle stretches after, just to humor me. You’ll feel good, really!

Second, one of my favorite quotes, by Edward Smith-Stanley, former British Prime Minister and the 14th Earl of Derby :

“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”