The State of Fitness in America and How it’s Affecting our Youth
This weekend I had the privilege of giving a presentation for the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters on the necessity of fitness for Fire Fighters. We’ve trained first responders at our facility for years and I’ve always felt strongly about the necessity of fitness for dangerous jobs, like Fire Fighting. Once I started doing the research though, I realized that it’s not just first responders who need to be doing something about their physical fitness for health and safety reasons, it’s everyone. I know from my own work experiences how difficult it can be to get people to stick to a workout regimen because it’s not easy and people are inherently lazy. Everyone wants the magic pill that gives them immediate results rather than work for them over time which is what has led us to things like “21 Day Cleanses”. Why make it a lifestyle when you can change your whole physique in 3 weeks?! Why change your lifestyle when you can just take blood pressure medication?! As I got into the numbers it was staggering just how inactive and overweight our country is as a whole:
- 70.7% of Americans are considered to be “overweight or obese”
- Only about 20% of our country is considered to meet the CDC’s recommended levels of physical activity
- About 25% of our country is considered to be completely “inactive”, the remaining 55% are not active enough to achieve the health benefits of exercise
- The average weight of an American woman has gone up about 25 pounds since the 1960’s, and the average weight of an American man has gone up over 30 pounds. The average American woman now weighs what the average American man did in the 1960’s.
This just highlights how poor our countries standards for nutrition and fitness have become, regardless of profession. Granted these “overweight or obese” numbers are based on BMI which has it’s own set of problems, like not taking muscle mass into account, but it’s still indicative of the unhealthy trend that America is following and it’s only getting worse. If you look around you next time you’re in public it will quickly become clear that our country’s high BMI isn’t due to excessive muscle mass. The more common that being overweight and inactive becomes, the more it becomes the acceptable norm to everyone outside of the fitness and medical communities.
It’s not a coincidence that the areas of the country that display the highest levels of inactivity also display the highest rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. While the obesity trend can be widely considered a product of poor diet, inactivity is a major contributor to how people become overweight in the first place. Even if your eating habits aren’t great, as long as you’re consistently staying active you’re more likely to maintain a weight closer to a healthy BMI, and more importantly you’re going to keep things like your blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rate at acceptable levels. A recent study by the University of Cambridge actually showed that inactivity kills twice as many people as obesity! This is becoming an epidemic that needs to be curbed at a young age and unfortunately we’re `still headed in the wrong direction.
When school budgets need to be cut, the first things to go are gym and sports. That would be fine if kids were still active on their own after school and participated in “free play”, but now the only playing that most kids do is on their phones and tablets. Unfortunately the problems we have with body image in this country are intertwined in the nature of physical fitness as well. We now need to tread lightly when telling someone that they’re out of shape for fear of “fat shaming”, even if you are just trying to get them to improve their own quality of life. We’re sending our youth the wrong message with these concepts. We’re allowing them to become overweight because we as a society have begun to accept overweight as the norm; and because we’re afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings, even the message that it shouldn’t be the norm is being buried.
Fixing this starts with the rest of us. Children imitate adults, and the more that children see adults sitting around on their tablets and eating unhealthy foods, the more that they’re likely to do the same. When they see us choose sitting on the couch over working out, or laying by the pool instead of going for a hike or even a long walk, they think of that as the norm. We’re imprinting our choices on the minds of our youth, and it’s having detrimental long term effects on their health. It’s up to us to change this, and it has to start before it’s too late. So let them see you go to the gym. Let them see you lift weights or hear you say that you have a personal trainer. Make sure that they know you’re not just walking the dog because it needs exercise, but because you need exercise too. Let’s get this thing headed in the right direction before hypertension and diabetes are considered part of the norm too.
Steve Zarriello is the owner of Olympia Fitness and Performance, located in Cranston, RI. He has been training clients of all different ages, abilities and backgrounds to help them reach their specific goals for 10 years. His primary focus is on working with golfers to help improve their ability to play the game and keep them pain free.