As we approach Valentine's Day, it's time to take a look back at our New Year's resolutions. Though about 130 million Americans reportedly wanted to significantly lose weight in January, a University of Minnesota survey indicates that 80 percent of us will have given up our annual resolutions to get in shape by Feb. 14. Before we start seeing red, however, consider that there is a reliable way to make this pledge successful: living an active lifestyle.
Two-thirds of us are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Predictably, there have been calls to tax everything from sports drinks to sweets in order to supposedly slim waistlines throughout the country. It seems politicians are love-struck by the notion that invasive regulation of what we eat and drink is the solution to making us healthier.
However, having the "food police" hovering isn't too romantic. For a much better way to burn off a dinner, research indicates that we shouldn't move our focus to food, but instead on getting moving.
Getting regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity boosts our immune system and reduces the risk of stroke, Alzheimer's and high blood pressure. And studies keep showing that the biggest factor in living longer isn't how fat you are, but how fit. Research in the journal Obesity last summer discovered that overweight people lived at least as long as those with normal weight — and had a lower risk of dying. Seniors carrying extra pounds were also less likely to die than normal-weight counterparts in an Australian study released last month. (Being sedentary upped the risk of death.)
In fact, it may not be heart-shaped cookies (or any other single food) that are making us fat, as anti-junk food crusaders claim. Our daily lifestyles have changed over the past few decades in little ways that have reduced our activity levels dramatically.
Consider the spread of labor-saving devices. Dishwashers and washing machines may save time and effort, but our reliance on them also means that we're not burning off as many calories as in the past. According to a commentary in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, doing things the automated way means we don't burn up to 8,800 calories each month — almost 300 per day — that we would spend with an active approach to daily tasks.
While small actions don't amount to many calories individually, it's the sum of the parts that has changed the "food/energy spent" equation.
We've also been doing more driving as we commute, shop, and work. The percentage of the population driving to work increased from 64 percent in 1960 to 88 percent in 2000. And for each hour spent behind the wheel of a car every day, a driver's risk of obesity increases by 6 percent, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia. (In contrast, those odds decrease by 5 percent for every kilometer walked per day.)
More research is examining the effects of the lack of the "little things" in our often-sedentary lives. Australian researchers recently found that watching TV raises risk of death — even for people who exercise regularly. Why? Because it reduces minor — but important — everyday bouts of activity. "It's not the sweaty type of exercise we're losing. It's the incidental moving around, walking around, standing up and utilizing muscles," remarks lead author Dr. David Dunstan.
Now is the time to smell the roses about fit and fat facts. There's no need to forgo the box of chocolates for a bag of carrots. A lifestyle that emphasizes regular, non-sports related exercise is the key to staying healthy. And Valentine's Day is the perfect time to start incorporating some of that activity back into your life.