Archive for the ‘American Assn for Physical Activity & Recreation’ category

Five Reasons to Start a Corporate Fitness Program

August 19, 2007

1) Fit workers make 27% fewer errors on tasks involving concentration and memory as opposed to unfit workers

2) When executives start an exercise program, they improve their ability to make complex decisions by 70%.

3) When DuPont instituted an employee fitness program, they had a 47% reduction in absenteeism over six years.

4) When General Motors instituted an employee fitness program, they had a 50% reduction in job-related grievances and on-the-job accidents.

5) For every $1 invested in corporate fitness programs, Coors Brewing Company received a $6.15 return on its investment.

In other words, physical fitness leads to fiscal fitness – and mental fitness as well. The moral of the story: Invest in employee exercise programs. Give people a chance to get up and move. It will pay off, in more ways than one.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Fat Friends: Obesity Study Hard to Swallow

July 27, 2007

The “fat friendship” story was all over the media this morning. Yikes.

The implications of this are so upsetting I’m already eating my seventh Hershey’s kiss.

(Good news: check out the “nutritional information” on the package. Serving size is nine!)

Really, though, could it be true that just having a fat friend or spouse can somehow make you fat?

So says this new research based on the famous Framingham Heart Study, which is tracking more than 12,000 people over 32 years. “Social networks play a surprisingly powerful role in determining an individual’s chances of gaining weight, transmitting an increased risk of becoming obese from wives to husbands, from brothers to brothers and from friends to friends,” reported the Washington Post.

My heart hurts just hearing this. Aren’t fat people already shunned and mocked enough? Now they have to take responsibility for everyone’s fat as well? Yikes. (And she pops Hershey’s kiss Number Eight.)

Sure sounds credible, coming from Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard Medical School, and to be published tomorrow in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Watch out,” the new study seemed to imply. “Stay away! Get too close to a dreaded Fat Person, and their fat will magically and irreversibly rub off on YOU!”

As an afterthought, at the end of the Washington Post article and also at the CNN report I saw this morning, reporters note that the opposite also seems to be true: when one person loses weight, so do their friends.

This is the concept behind Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, running clubs, and many other health-oriented groups. We inspire each other to achieve our goals.

Why wasn’t this the headline?

Why aren’t researchers putting half as much energy into promoting healthy behaviors as they are into exploring obesity?

We already know what prevents obesity: daily physical activity and relatively healthy food choices. You don’t have to be a nut about it. You can have some Hershey’s kisses now and then (she says, finishing off Number Nine.)

The key is to move: moderate to vigorous activity on most days.

But by all means, please please please don’t abandon your fat friends out of your own fat-o-phobia or misinterpretation of this research.

Fat friends do not cause obesity; overeating and under-exercising do.

The moral of this story is not to avoid fat people.

It’s to be a leader yourself, inspiring all of your friends and colleagues, fat, thin, and middle-sized, to follow in your footsteps, literally, and choose a path of daily physical activity.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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A Whole Lot of Skinny, Unhappy, Unhealthy People

July 3, 2007

The news on the front page of the Washington Post today (“Way to Shrink, Grow Fat Is Found”) did not make me jump for joy. And I’m the kind of person who DOES jump for joy – unlike those who only jump to burn calories.

Georgetown University scientists have discovered that these three things are true of mice:

1) If you stress them out (more on stress techniques for mice later) and feed them junk food, they gain more weight than their little mouse-peers who eat junk food without being stressed out; and

2) If you inject mice with Certain Stuff (more on that later too,) they don’t gain weight, even if they’re stressed AND eating junk food.

3) Injections of that same Certain Stuff can actually shrink fat deposits by up to 50 percent in two weeks.

You see why jumping for joy comes to mind. Surely, if these results hold true for humans, this Certain Stuff is going to become bigger than Google itself.

Can you imagine the line of fat people lined up to get these shots? Now add to that line all the imaginary fat people (those who obsess over fat that isn’t really there,) and the pharmaceutical company that gets the patent on this stuff is going to get one heck of a fat payday.

Here’s the catch, though. Imagine the impact on physical activity.

How many people currently exercise for the health of it? Or, better yet, the sheer joy of it?

Most people already get zero exercise.

And from the looks on the faces of the people at my gym, the large majority who exercise at all do so because of some grim determination to avoid getting fat.

What if all these people stopped riding the stationery bicycle and doing Pilates? What if the only place they ever ran was to the doctor’s office, for their next fat-blocking shot?

Here’s what would happen: There would be a lot of skinny, unhappy, unhealthy people in the world.

We know that physical activity is essential to help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and a zillion other bad things that can happen.

We know that physical activity is an antidote to depression.

We know that people who sit around on their butts all day — even if those butts become fashionably thin — get depressed and sick.

Which is why I’m not jumping for joy.

Neither are the stressed mice, by the way. To stress them, scientists made them stand in cold water or endure the company of alpha mice. They were trying to create the mouse equivalent of chronic human stress, such as sitting in traffic – or having to endure the company of an alpha boss.

Standing in cold water does not exactly bring to mind Abu Gahraib, but for the record I do not support mouse torture techniques, and hate the thought that scientists get paid to think this stuff up.

The other thing I promised to explain is what I called Certain Stuff. It’s a substance that blocks another substance that triggers the stress-induced obesity phenomenon, apparently. Read the Washington Post story if you’re the kind of person who can understand that neuropeptidies are not a form of detergent.

All I know is that anything that gives people another excuse to avoid moving is going to be one big fat mistake.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Walking as a Spiritual Path

April 28, 2007

When I lived in California in the eighties, I studied Zen Buddhism with Cheri Huber, author of There Is Nothing Wrong with You and many other books.

We did a lot of sitting, as Buddhists are wont to do. We did some working meditation too — cooking, for instance, while maintaining a silent meditative focus, or trying to.

My favorite part was walking meditation. We’d take slow, deliberate steps around the monastery. The turtle gait gave us a chance to pay attention to everything: our bodies, our breath, our environment, and our seven trillion racing, often ridiculous thoughts.

As an athlete, I learn by doing – by PAR-ticipating, as we say in AAPAR, the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation. So walking meditation offered me a valuable opportunity to observe, understand, and develop compassion for my own body and mind (which is “the point” of Zen training, though purists would say there is no real “point.”)

The labyrinth offers a related form of walking meditation. These ancient mazes are increasingly popular throughout the world, as people look for a way to deepen their spiritual practice through walking.

I’ve tried the plastic kind they sometimes carpet church halls with, but it was difficult for me to put aside my alienation from the plastic long enough to experience any sort of enlightenment (except the awareness that I’m not fond of plastic.)

Then last summer I discovered a labyrinth on Block Island (a ferry ride from mainland Rhode Island,) high on a green hill overlooking the bay. With the view of the ocean and the breeze in my face, that was more conducive to insight, awareness, and peace.

Most mall-walkers and fitness walkers don’t tend to think of their journeys as spiritual ones. But why not?


Try not to let a little plastic – or traffic, or pollution – get in your way. Who knows what enlightenment, peace, or insights one might gain when body and mind are free to roam?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation