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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Working Off the Holidays!
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Henry C. Lukaski

Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa bring an anticipation of family gatherings, gift giving and sharing of tasty treats. It's also the season of overindulgence in those treats.

Many Americans are at increased health risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and some forms of cancer simply because they are too fat. One in every three adult Americans is overweight and probably obese, meaning they have excessive body fat.

Everyone needs a certain amount of body fat for energy storage, heat insulation, and other functions. Generally, women have more fat than men. However, health professionals agree that men with more than 25% body fat, and women with more than 30% body fat are obese. Because accurate measurement of a person's body fat requires special equipment and training, health professionals rely on body mass index or BMI to gauge excess fatness.

Let's test your math skills. Calculate your own BMI; calculator use is recommended. The BMI is a person's body weight, without clothes, in kilograms (pounds/2.2) divided by the standing height, without shoes, in meters squared (inches x 0.0254)2. BMI = kilograms/meters2 .

In general, a person's age is 35 years or older is considered obese if the BMI is 27 or more. For people a person under age 34, a BMI of 25 or more indicates obesity. A BMI of 30 or more is considered a sign of moderate to severe obesity.

The BMI has some limitations. The distinction of "healthy" and "unhealthy" BMI ranges is not clear. BMI does not provide information about a person's percentage of body fat or muscle. However, the BMI is a useful and practical guide to show people that they need to lose weight, and particularly fat.

If your BMI is too high, consider a basic plan that includes increasing physical activity and some modest changes in food selection to reduce health risk. Eat a sensible, well balanced diet that includes a variety of foods and plenty of grains, fruits and vegetables. Exercise is a critical component. In addition to increasing energy output, it builds muscle, which, after exercise stops, continues to burn body fat.

Before starting an exercise program, you should get your physician's approval. Once you have medical clearance, increasing your activity can be easy. Here are some guidelines for success.

Take it one step at a time.

Any new exercise program should start slowly. Start exercising, then decide how long you want to keep going. Try to do more the next time. For starters, you might exercise for five minutes the first day, 10 minutes the second day, until you reach 30 minutes per day. It can be as simple as a walk around the block with a friend or family member. Proper exercise means accumulating as much physical activity as you can at a moderate intensity over most days of the week. Do not exercise too hard all at once. Instead, add some physical activity to each day. Put activity in your daily routine. Make an appointment with yourself for activity or play. Treat this appointment as any other important appointment on your schedule.

Make it convenient.

Identify any obstacles to exercising and eliminate them. You do not need to drive across town to exercise if the drive is inconvenient. You do not need fancy work out clothes, a prestigious club or a trendy class. Find an activity that you enjoy doing every day and do more of it.

Do it now.

Do not give yourself an opportunity to find an excuse. Take advantage of your internal clock. Schedule an activity that fits in the natural rhythm of your day.

Do activities that you enjoy.

Work out to your favorite exercise video, play with your pet or walk around the mall with a friend. Make exercise a "want to" rather than a "have to" activity.

Add variety.

Doing more than one type of activity keeps all parts of your body in shape and assures diversity. Try new things, such as dancing, hiking or cycling. You might be surprised at the new activities that you like.

Learn to waste energy.

If you enjoy talking on the telephone, get a hands- off head-set and walk briskly around the room, on a treadmill or an exercise bike while carrying on a conversation. Instead of using the restroom on the floor where you work, walk up to the next floor. Try parking further away from the shopping mall entrance and walking.

To be more physically active, follow the general rule. Don't lie down when you can sit, don't sit when you can stand, and don't stand when you can walk around. Keep moving! It is always better to do something than to do nothing.


Last Modified: 10/23/2006
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