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The Surgeon General's Report - What's in It for Me?

By Lt. Col. Marty Thomas, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 1998 – Q&A for Living Healthy Longer

Q: I've heard about the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activityand Health. What's it all about?

A: The main purpose of the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health is to summarize existing research showing the benefits of physical activity in preventing disease and to draw conclusions that can be useful to Americans who are interested in improving their health. In 1964, the Surgeon General began alerting the nation to the hazards of smoking. In 1988, the Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health was released. These reports have had a great impact on the behavior of American citizens as evidenced by the ban on smoking in many buildings and public places, legal restrictions on tobacco advertising, revision of the food pyramid, and FDA label requirements, to name a few. Similar changes are expected as more and more Americans actively seek a physically active lifestyle.

Q: What's in the report?

A: The report concentrates on endurance-type physical activity; that is, activity involving repeated use of large muscles, such as walking or bicycling, because the health benefits of this type of activity have been studied extensively. While the report acknowledges the importance of other types of activities such as strength training, it does not emphasize these.

Q: What's new and different from "no pain, no gain"?

A: The main message is that Americans can substantially improve their health and quality of life by including moderate amounts of physical activity in their daily lives. The report emphasizes that most Americans can achieve health benefits from physical activity even if they dislike vigorous exercise or previously were discouraged because of the difficulty in adhering to a program of vigorous exercise. Individuals can realize major health gains by including regular, moderate activity in their lives. Individuals who already include moderate activity in their daily lives can see additional health and fitness improvement if they increase the duration of their moderate activity to include a more vigorous workout 3-5 days per week.

Q: Why should I care?

A: Generally, the report concludes that higher levels of physical activity lead to lower mortality rates, a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, a decreased risk of colon cancer, and lower levels of obesity.

Q: Where can I find more information?

A: To obtain copies of the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health call, (888) 232-4674. (Thomas is an action officer in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Personnel Support, Families and Education.) This article was prepared from information in the President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports' Physical Activity and Fitness Research Digest, entitled "What You Need to Know About the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health," Series 2, No. 6, July 1996.

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