Super Bowl Pledge: Get Moving, Get Fit

The Super Bowl gives physical fitness experts an opportunity to make the case for getting in shape.

From the WebMD Archives

The Super Bowl certainly motivates the players to go all out for victory, but it motivates millions of fans as well.

It motivates them to arrange their lives so they can sit for hours in front of the TV watching every play of the game.

The Super Bowl does not, however, appear to motivate fans to embrace the essence of professional football, which is physical fitness.

Instead, football fans, like much of the population of the U.S., tend to be overweight, out of shape, and sedentary. Twenty-six percent of Americans get no exercise at all, according to the CDC. Many won't even walk up a flight of stairs if they can avoid it.

Exercise Excuses

Why do Americans tend to avoid exercise?

Many say they don't have time and find exercise boring.

Many exercise physiologists, however, suspect a bigger problem may be lack of knowledge; if people really understood the enormous benefits of exercise, they would just do it.

"Exercise seems to affect everything," says Cris Slentz, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "In my opinion, if you understand that exercise is really good for you, you'll make it a No. 1 priority. If you don't, you won't. I believe knowledge is a big part of it. We all have the same amount of time."

How Moderate Exercise Helps

Exercise, according to Slentz, prevents one of the biggest threats to good health -- the accumulation of fat beneath the skin and around the internal organs, such as the liver and the heart. This gives rise to abdominal obesity. Excess fat weakens the body's ability to burn glucose (blood sugar), which then accumulates in the bloodstream, setting the stage for diabetes and an array of health problems.

The good news, Slentz says, is that even moderate amounts of exercise can prevent weight gain. In a study published recently in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Slentz and colleagues demonstrated that even a brisk 30-minute walk five or six days a week was enough to prevent significant fat accumulation.

"People in the inactive group gained significant weight -- about two pounds every six months," Slentz says. "But those who exercised, even at lower intensity, had some pretty remarkable benefits. In fact, people in the low-intensity group actually had better triglyceride reduction. Some had lipid responses that were more robust than in the higher intensity group."

More exercise, however, is generally better.

"Those in the higher dose group, who jogged 17-18 miles per week, had the biggest benefits," says Slentz. Still, a growing body of research demonstrates that even moderate exercise brings significant health benefits.


Benefits of Short Bursts of Exercise

And exercise is beneficial even if it's accumulated throughout the day, according to I-Min Lee, MD, ScD, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.

"While there were few data on this question before 1995, there have been several studies since then that compare short bouts of physical activity accumulated over the day to a single longer bout -- for example, walking 15 minutes two times a day vs. 30 minutes once a day," she says. "These studies seem to suggest that we can still get health benefits if our activity bouts are as short as 10-15 minutes per session."

These findings suggest that almost anyone can find the time to do some exercise.

"That's one of the ways the exercise community has tried to make physical activity palatable to the masses," Lee says. "Pick what you like to do. It doesn't have to be vigorous; it can be moderate. It will still give you health benefits."

Getting Americans to Walk

James O. Hill, PhD, applied this prescription for moderate exercise when he helped found Colorado on the Move, which has expanded into America on the Move. Colorado on the Move encourages people to add 2,000 steps to their daily routine -- about 10 minutes of walking. (The average Colorado resident takes about 5,500-6,000 steps a day, according to a Harris poll.) At the same time, they should cut about 100 calories from their diet. People who do this should at the very least stop gaining weight, according to Hill, the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "Physical activity is the key to maintaining a healthy body weight," Hill said. "Whether your goal is to avoid gaining weight or to keep off the weight you have lost, you won't succeed unless you find a way to make physical activity an important part of your life. The good news is that you can start just by walking a little more. Get a pedometer, see how many steps you currently take each day, and gradually increase that number."


The 30-Minute Advantage

Glen E. Duncan, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, agrees that moderate amounts of physical activity can make a big difference in health. He and his colleagues recently conducted a study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, in which they counseled nearly 500 sedentary adults on the value of walking for 30 minutes a day. Those who walked at a higher intensity, and those who walked at moderate intensity and more often, achieved greater health benefits. But all showed some improvement except those who walked infrequently, and at less intensity.

"It was about people in the real world," Duncan says. "We let people choose when and where they would walk. We tailored exercise descriptions, gave them heart rate monitors and pedometers."

However, despite the health benefits and the sense of well-being they achieved, some of the study participants cut back on their exercise regimen.

"Ultimately it was up to them to comply with their exercise prescriptions," says Duncan, "but their compliance diminished over time. Exercise is like medicine -- it only works if you do it."

Environmental Changes

That's why Duncan would like to see urban environments changed in ways that would encourage people to walk more, climb stairs, and ride bicycles.

"It's hard to be active in our society," said Duncan. "How many streets have dedicated bike lanes? Some areas don't even have sidewalks."

Those who make a minimal effort, however, can find a way to burn a few extra calories a day. It's hard to believe that after spending hours watching the Super Bowl, fans can't find 30 minutes for a brisk walk to help them win their battle against weight gain.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD


Published Jan. 30, 2006.

SOURCES: Cris Slentz, PhD, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. Slentz, C. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005; vol 99: pp 1613-1618. I-Min Lee, MD, ScD, associate professor, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. James O. Hill, PhD, director, Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Glen E. Duncan, PhD, assistant professor, University of Washington. Duncan, G. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2005; vol 165: pp 2362-2369.
© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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