A Tempting Solution to Our Big Fat Weight Problem

Much as you might feel otherwise, exercise is not a punishment for being fat. But to make activity a daily habit, American women need to stop thinking of it as cod liver oil.

Let me explain.

The more women punish themselves for being overweight, the more likely they are to turn to food for help and comfort. (That frozen pint of ice cream is quick, easy and reliable).

Here's an uncommon solution: Flip the equation. Think positively about how you can get started, talk to friends about your feelings and get together to create change for yourself, your families and womankind.

If the goal is wellness and happiness, and the message is one of "you can do it" vs. "you have failed," I have no doubt that women will lead the way to a healthier nation.

It is in the interest of women, families -- all Americans -- to bridge the gap between knowing that exercise is good for us and actually doing it.

Sadly, the issue is that we, and by "we" I mean women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, are so disconnected from our bodies -- or so deeply in denial about our health -- that we can't seem to find a compelling reason to work out.

If you have any doubt about this theory, you can visit me at my desk at Fitness magazine, where, as the editor, I have stockpiled statistics that could put the fear of God into any woman.

According to a recent study of women, 100 percent of respondents said they understood the health risks of being overweight and three out of four women kept up with the latest health information. And here's the "disconnect:" only 57 percent reported eating healthfully; a little less than half exercised regularly.

But still:

64 percent of American women are overweight. Experts suspect that as American women get heavier, incidence of heart disease and heart attacks in women in their 30s and even 20s will become more common. And while dire warnings about obesity face us every day, we are a nation that is spending billions of dollars on quick fix diet remedies -- yet we are getting fatter by the day.

Denise Brodey is the Editor in Chief of Fitness Magazine www.fitnessmagazine.com

Given the stress of our lives these days, it seems like a no-brainer that women would focus on the short-term (surviving the daily chaos) rather than the long-term goal (staying healthy as we age).

I've been observing women of all ages lately talk about why they do or don't exercise, and I couldn't with all seriousness make this claim if I didn't: Women who have their priorities in place, and have put themselves and their happiness at the top of their to-do lists, are the ones who are working out and finding success.

Exercise can be a priority if we are confident enough to say, "I'm worth it." In fact, research from Brock University in Canada shows that working out simply because you "you know you should" can actually diminish your sense of self worth.

Taking up walking or swimming or biking because you enjoy it, however, can boost your confidence -- and even make you appear smarter and kinder. Really: Another recent Canadian study (they're on to something!) shows a woman earns higher marks from peers if she exercises regularly, regardless of her weight.

All of this talk prompts the question: So, how do I start?

Go public -- tell friends and family you are digging out your sneakers and you are going to start jogging or playing tennis again. A simple way to make it a priority is to plan social, family, even school activities around exercise: plan a walkathon instead of a bake sale; meet a friend for a yoga class instead of drinks; invest in a new home gym to go with your new flat screen TV this Christmas. Even simple things that seem beyond our grasp are not.

Health experts recommend walking 10,000 steps each day (about five miles); right now, the average American woman walks about 3,000 per day. Ironically, using less technology -- e-mailing less, driving less, watching TV less -- are the things that connect us with our bodies and our friends and neighbors and make it easier for us to reach our exercise goals.

A friend recently turned me on to a Web site that made the idea of easy changes incredibly clear and understandable. It's called The Kansas Health Association personal trainer. It suggests, so simply but effectively, lose the remote. On purpose. Going up? Take the stairs. Let the dog take you for a walk. Its brilliance is that it explains exactly how, why and when to make little changes every day. http://www.changesomething.org/

Denise Brodey is the Editor in Chief of Fitness Magazine www.fitnessmagazine.com

I recently talked to David Katz, M.D., founder of the Yale Center for Preventive Medicine, who says, with some throwing up of his hands, we're more stressed, we eat more quickly, we spend too little time preparing our own meals, we aren't half as active daily as our mothers were.

Much of what he is preaching is obvious to women, but the way he says it -- with a smile, with a sense that we can change -- is what strikes me as so new.

My argument, like Dr. Katz's and that of the creators of the Kansas Health Association, is to re-engineer the way Americans think about exercise. Replace the negative thinking with the positive. Several new studies show that the health choices that women make affect their families, so by leading the way you are changing a nation.

This spring, lawmakers sent a bill to Congress called PHIT. The legislation (Personal Health Investment Today), was written to encourage Americans to change their behaviors and increase their physical activity in order to help curb obesity.

The legislation allows individuals to place up to $1,000 annually in existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts, Health Savings Accounts and Medical Savings Accounts to pay for exercise programs and equipment, youth and adult sports league fees, fitness and health club dues.

This bill attacks the problem without attacking the victims.

And I have every hope that it will be passed: PHIT sends a positive message to Americans about making personal investment in exercise.

Gushing about the potential joys of Downward Dog and biceps presses may get me a little ridicule among friends, but I much prefer it to the finger wagging "you need to do this or else" approach. Certainly, too few of us feel compelled to make a personal change even when we hear a scary statistic.

Denise Brodey is the Editor in Chief of Fitness Magazine www.fitnessmagazine.com