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February 15, 2015

Sedentary lifestyles continue to adversely affect fitness

I was glancing through a past copy of my University of California - Berkley Wellness Letter and found some interesting items that focused on fitness. One of the worst items reported an article from the American Journal of Medicine that looked at the change in leisure-time activity, comparing today with 20 years ago.

In 1994, the number of women who reported that they did no leisure activity was 19 percent. Jump to 2010; and the number who reported doing no physical activity was now 52 percent. The percentage of men who reported no leisure activity in 1994 was 11 percent. Moving ahead to 2010 found that the percentage of men doing no leisure activity was now 42 percent.

The study combined some of these statistics with average calorie intake over this time period. The results showed that there was not a great difference between the total calories people ate in 1994 versus 2010. And yet most studies recently show that our population is now around 68 percent overweight or obese.

The conclusion was that the increase in body weight seen since 1994 is attributed to less exercise, not more calories. Whether this decline in leisure activity is the result of more technology to make work easier, more activity on computers, video games or cell phone addiction, or more time working for a living, it all comes down to the fact that the population today is not moving enough.

And that results in much higher health costs, in both physical health and less work production because of absenteeism for health problems in the work force. It just costs us more money to be sedentary and less active.

Another article that had my interest is one on determining a person’s maximum heart rate during exercise. The standard for years has been to subtract your age from 220, and multiply that by a percentage between 60 and 80 percent.

For a fit person, the percentage could be closer to 90 percent. For an unfit person just starting out, the percentage might be closer to 50 percent of that number. The only way to really determine the maximum heart rate is to take a stress test, which is usually expensive.

A couple of new proposals have been presented, along with roughly 20 others that have been met with varying degrees of success.

One complaint is that the old standard was determined by using young to middle aged men. It didn’t take into account the results of those percentages as a person gets older, and that maximum heart rate can be very inaccurate.

One new proposal for women over 40 years of age is to multiply their age by 0.67 (67 percent) and subtract that from 200. Men over 40 years of age should multiply their age by 0.93 and subtract the result from 216.

There were some researchers who suggested that there should be no difference made for gender differences. In other words, both men and women should have the same formula to determine maximum heart rate, as results from these changes were not significant enough for change.

Another proposal to determine the maximum heart rate - designed mainly to help the older runner - was to take 208 minus 70 percent of their age. This resulted in only a 3-beat change for a runner who is 50 years old; but it resulted in a 9-beat change for a runner who is 70 years of age.

While it is interesting to determine the maximum heart rate, so that when a person goes for a run, they want their heart rate to be at a level considered to be a good training level. Some thought that the “rate of perceived exertion” scale of from 1 to 20 was a better method to use than heart rate with its many variables.

Instead, focus on how hard you are breathing, how much strain you feel, and how much you are sweating to determine whether you are having a good workout or not.

One other method was the talk-test determination for a workout. If the talking is easy, the workout is easy; if the talking is in short sentences, the intensity is moderate; and if you can’t talk, the workout is too strenuous.

So pick your favorite method of determining maximum heart rate, and understand that it is not as important as it is to just move more.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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