Health tips from Indiana University
EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.
This month's tips discuss physical activity and mental retardation, keys to a successful fitness plan, exercise excuses, and sources for reliable information about sexuality.
A potentially harmful double standard exists when it comes to physical activity for people with mild mental retardation, according to Georgia Frey, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University Bloomington. The negative physical, emotional and financial consequences of a sedentary lifestyle are even more pronounced for people with mental retardation because poor health exacerbates a disabling condition. Frey's research found, however, that in her study participants, who were adults with mental retardation living in community settings, health problems related to sedentary behavior typically were overlooked or minimized. "An interesting factor unique to this group was messages of caution from authority figures (such as care providers, teachers and doctors)," she said. "Specifically, adults with mental retardation reported they were often told 'not to overdo it' and were discouraged from engaging in physical activity unless directly supervised as part of special programs." She also found that adults with mental retardation living in the community exhibit physical activity patterns similar to people without disabilities. This was surprising, she said, because the majority of existing research indicated that adults with mental retardation generally are more sedentary than the general population. However, few studies have used a motion sensor, as she did, to quantify activity in people with disabilities. Study subjects reported many of the same barriers to activity as those without disabilities, such as time and money. Most of the research participants were obese, and while some authority figures acknowledged it was a problem, there was reluctance to address it by teaching and promoting healthy physical activity and nutritional behaviors. Frey and colleagues propose that this stems from a pervasive, unarticulated societal attitude that "disabled" is synonymous with "unhealthy." Consequently, health promotion for this population is not emphasized because these individuals are believed to already have a poor quality of life. Frey said people with mental retardation can independently engage in the same health fitness activities, with the same intensity, as the general population. She said it is important to actively promote healthy behaviors in this group, with an emphasis on choice. "People with mental retardation may choose to be inactive, but this choice should be made with the same information and opportunities as people without disabilities. Only then will they be afforded their full rights as citizens," said Frey, who has studied the physical activity behaviors of people with disabilities for the past eight years. Her findings have been published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health and are currently in press with another scholarly journal. The Department of Kinesiology is in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Frey can be reached at 812-855-1262 and email@example.com.
Make it fun and purposeful. Just as the fabled turtle outran the hare, consistent people reap the health benefits of regular physical fitness efforts, said Indiana University Bloomington fitness expert Carol Kennedy. How should a newly converted fitness enthusiast begin? How about 10,000 steps a day? Not necessary, Kennedy said. Twenty or 30 minutes of continuous, rigorous exercise? Take a break -- or two or three, she said. The bottom line with any exercise program is that it needs to be fun, have a reasonable timetable and produce an enhanced quality of life. These are things that help make it a lifestyle habit, not just a New Year's resolution, she said. "If you begin a rigorous fitness program and you crash and burn, it's like yo-yo dieting. It doesn't work," said Kennedy, a lecturer in IUB's Department of Kinesiology in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "It's about making a behavioral change in your life. It doesn't happen overnight. It starts with making it fun and purposeful." Home videos, swimming, walking, cardio machines -- Kennedy said it doesn't matter what fitness enthusiasts choose, as long as it's something they enjoy and will continue doing. Here are some tips to try and fallacies to avoid on the journey to fitness:
- The health benefits of exercise can be experienced with 20-60 minutes of continuous or non-continuous exercise, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. This debunks the notion that these benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease or lower levels of sugar in the blood, only come with continuous exercise. Exercise can occur in chunks throughout the workout or throughout the day, Kennedy said.
- "Why don't we look at the gym like it's a playground?" she said. "Who spends the whole time on the slide? Why not spend 10 minutes on the elliptical cardio machine, go get a drink of water, talk to a friend and then return for another 10 minutes. Make it an enjoyable experience. Think of your fitness experience as you once thought of a playground as a kid."
- Goals are important and can help define a workout. Weight goals, however, are not always productive. Exercising, Kennedy said, does not guarantee weight loss. She said goals should relate to quality of life. Fitness goals for some people might involve being able to play on the floor with their grandchildren without experiencing back pain, for example. For other people, their goal could be climbing the steps to their office or apartment without huffing and puffing. These kinds of goals can bring about great self-esteem once accomplished, in addition to improving one's health. They can propel people to set further goals and to see their exercise program as important to their lives, Kennedy said.
- The U.S. Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of exercise on most days, Kennedy said. Some people accomplish this simply with an active lifestyle. They park a little farther from their office, walk to work instead of driving, or walk to lunch instead of ordering out.
- Kennedy is a big fan of pedometers, but she said walkers receive substantial health benefits from 6,000 steps a day, rather than 10,000 steps a day, as commonly discussed. She said the amount of decline in the mortality rate is significantly less between 6,000 steps and 10,000 steps.
- Exercising with a buddy helps people stick with their plans.
Kennedy can be reached at 812-855-6083 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excuses, excuses. Forty percent of students surveyed at a Big Ten university said they either work out or participate in campus recreational sports activities at least once a week -- and not because they have excess leisure time. These active students participate regularly because they make an extra effort to find the time or to overcome other obstacles, according to research by Dan Elkins, an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Indiana University Bloomington. Lack of time was the main reason cited by students who did not regularly use recreational sports facilities on the Bloomington campus. Increased time demands on the regular users, however, just made them work harder to get to the gym, aerobics session or pool, using strategies such as creative scheduling and better time management, working out with a buddy, or learning the necessary skills for the desired workout. One excuse often cited for not participating was the lack of knowledge or skills needed for specific activities. A student might not use workout machinery, for example, because he or she does not know how. The regular participant, however, would overcome this by asking someone to show him or her how to use the equipment or by learning how through other means. "It comes down to the individual making the choice to fight through or negotiate these constraints," Elkins said. "It's really a matter of perception, quite honestly. I don't think there's any doubt that people make excuses, such as 'I don't have time to do this.' The truth is, this probably isn't the case." Elkins surveyed IUB students to examine their use of campus recreational facilities, their reasons for not using them, and strategies, or negotiations, that allowed them to use the facilities. He noted that the campus' two recreational facilities are conveniently located near student housing. The survey did not take into consideration students' use of facilities off campus. The Department of Recreation and Park Administration is located in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Elkins can be reached at 812-855-2672 and email@example.com.
Sex and the cultural divide. When Carol McCord and Debby Herbenick watched a screening of Kinsey, the movie about the influential and pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey from Indiana University, they were struck by how little progress U.S. society has made in understanding and accepting human sexuality. Despite an apparently sex-saturated culture, McCord and Herbenick frequently hear the same questions that were posed to Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s. The questions often involve fear and anxiety. Students are fearful about STDs, for example, but are unsure about where to get the answers they need to make good decisions. They wonder if size really matters, if masturbation or other sex acts will affect their ability to conceive a child. McCord is a sex therapist and assistant dean of women's affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. Herbenick is pursuing a Ph.D minor in human sexuality at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction as part of her doctoral studies in health behaviors in IUB's Department of Applied Health Science. She also coordinates KISISS, the Kinsey Institute Sexuality Information Service for Students. They describe a paradox in which society is bombarded by media that push sex while some elements of society push guilt and shame about sex. In the middle lies an extensive need for reliable information about sex. People from around the world contact the Kinsey Institute with their questions, said Jennifer Bass, the institute's director of information services. They often don't know where else to turn. "Sex seems to be everywhere -- in the media, on billboards -- and the images pervade our lives. But it's a harder task to find good information," Bass said. "The Kinsey Institute provides information that people can trust."
- KISISS, http://www.indiana.edu/~kisiss/, is a free Web-based service that provides comprehensive, research-based information about sexual problems and sexual health. It suggests resources, such as book lists, that could benefit people of all ages.
To reach Bass, McCord or Herbenick, contact Bass at 812-855-7686 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional help with these tips, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and email@example.com.