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COMMUNITY VOICE

Exercise could be the key for making women's lives better

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

The excuses many people — Hoosier women in particular — use to avoid exercise are seemingly endless: Children take all my free time, work leaves me exhausted, it’s not any fun anyway, and I’d prefer to sit and watch television.

Yet we all know that America is in the midst of a health crisis as we pack on the pounds, keep smoking cigarettes and suffer heart disease at unacceptable levels. Shockingly, however, findings from recent studies conducted at Ball State University detail our poor health habits.

In fact, Ball State’s Global Health Institute discovered in 2012 that 66.5 percent of the adult population in Indiana was overweight or obese — about 3.2 million people as measured by body mass index (BMI). The national average is about 64 percent. This is an increase from 1991 when 50 percent of Hoosiers were overweight or obese and the national average was about 46 percent.

Obesity poses a major risk for serious diet-related chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke as well as certain forms of cancer. Obesity is listed as the fifth-leading cause of death.

Smoking also continues to take a toll, even as we try to quit the nasty habit. Earlier this year, Ball State researchers found that 57.5 percent of Hoosiers tried to stop in the last 12 months. The study also found that in 2010, 9,700 Hoosiers died and $4.7 billion was spent on annual health care and other economic costs as a result of tobacco use. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

The news doesn’t get any better when you add a 2011 report from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that found one in four women in the U.S. dies from heart disease. Women are also at much greater risk for developing bone-thinning conditions, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

So, what is the key to stopping our bodies from becoming time bombs? Exercise. By embracing a daily routine and eating right, women can quickly turn their lives around, transforming stressful days into ones of increased self-efficacy, self-esteem and an overall sense of achievement.

There are no bad days for women to exercise. Research has found that exercise helps relieve premenstrual symptoms, and exercise during pregnancy improves a mother’s physical well-being. For overweight or obese mothers, exercise may also help break the obesity cycle for the fetus.

And what do we get for years of exercise? A much better life. People who exercise on a regular basis up to the age of 80 have the same aerobic capacity as someone half their age, says a report from Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory. The same research has also found that long-term athletes enjoy vibrant and healthy lives.

So think of what small changes you might make to improve your health. Consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator; get a pedometer and try to increase the number of steps you take during the day; walk around the field when the kids are playing soccer; try some active video games; or ride a stationary bike while you’re watching TV.

The evidence is clear: If we start exercising now, we can enjoy years of health. On the other hand, if we fail to heed the warnings, our remaining years will not be as pleasant.

Selen Razon is an assistant professor of sport and exercise psychology at Ball State University.