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Don't Surrender to the Fat

In amongst last month's bombardment of commercials, press releases and news stories about New Year's resolutions, I spied a story that made me gasp.

Right there on was a story that said Americans were more accepting of heavier bodies. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of Americans who thought overweight people were less attractive dropped from 55 percent to 24 percent, according to research firm NPD Group.

This finding is great if Americans' only idea of beauty is a waif thin Kate Moss look, but I highly doubt that. Instead, I suspect that the two-thirds of adults who are overweight are now more accustomed to seeing other overweight Americans and, therefore, they consider that normal. Have Americans given up on becoming healthier?

And yes, despite the school of thought that says you can be fat but fit, most of us know that is not true. Researchers at Northwestern University recently added to the evidence against this school of thought. They found that excess weight alone — even without high blood pressure and high cholesterol — is an independent risk factor for health issues such as diabetes and heart attacks.

Americans seem to know what to do about getting more fit. When asked about the importance of several activities to staying healthy, two-thirds of Boomers over age 50 said regular exercise and eating a balanced diet were very important, according to the Southeastern Institute of Research/Boomer Project Boomer Trend Report released in December. However, only 21 percent of the respondents actually exercised regularly, and only 28 percent said they eat a balanced diet.

A study released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found similar results. The study found that only 45.9 percent of adults over 18 participated in 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week or 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. In fact, one fifth of those surveyed didn't even get 10 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous exercise.

Perhaps the problem is that Americans are too lazy or too overworked to make room for fitness. Some, I'm sure are waiting for that magic weight loss pill. And they may not have to wait much longer.

Last month, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel recommended that the FDA approve over-the-counter sales of orlistat, which currently is sold as a prescription under the name Xenical. The pill blocks fat and has helped users in a clinical trial lose 5.3 to 6.2 more pounds than those taking a dummy pill. Rimonabant, another weight loss drug, is expected to be approved by regulators soon. Several other weight loss pills are being studied.

So what is a fitness professional to do? I guess we could make them laugh. A study published in the February issue of the medical journal, Heart, found that laughing could do a heart as much good as running. Blood flow improved in study participants when they watched a comedy, boosting circulation to the level often reached during aerobic exercise, the researchers found.

So who knows, maybe instead of cardio equipment in your facility you should consider installing some big screen TVs and recliners and investing in some funny DVDs, so Americans can sit next to their ever-expanding sweeties, dig into the buttered popcorn and laugh their way to good health at your facility. Now there's an idea that could make you laugh so hard you'll cry.

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