Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Off the couch

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An American professor of physical education has picked up the first $50,000 prize offered in Canada to an academic who helps change public attitudes to active living. Steven Blair, of the University of South Carolina, says something as simple as a leisurely, half-hour walk a day can cut mortality rates by half.

Mr. Blair won the Bloomberg Manulife Prize for his effort to get people off the couch. He insists the sedentary lifestyle, not burgeoning weight, is the biggest health risk.

Most people will agree that exercise is a healthy thing for everyone. Some research, however, has shown that body weight, not exercise, is more associated with diabetes, for example. Further, medical science has shown it is not so much what a person weighs that is worrisome, but where the weight is being added -- the thick layer of fat around the middle is a real health risk.

Mr. Blair believes the answer to America's (or Canada's presumably; this country's rising obesity problem does not lag far behind that in the U.S.) weight problem can be found in getting people to be active, not exhorting them to lose weight. "You can be fit and obese," he says.

That takes effort, and dedication -- two factors key to changing the North American lifestyle that seem be in short supply. Governments have been pressing people for decades to get fit -- people of a certain age will remember the superfit 60-year-old Swede -- and young adults today are the product of a school system that lionized the Terry Fox run and, in Manitoba, of mandatory physical education throughout high school. Yet, we grow bigger. Putting on the running shoes is likely to prove as tough as putting down the potato chips. It seems unlikely that lifestyles and health status will change by focusing on one part of the problem.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2012 A10

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