Since I have been writing about what motivates people, especially seniors, to exercise and take responsibility for their own health and wellness, I thought I’d go back to George Leonard’s book, The Ultimate Athlete for some good statistics and reasoning about health and fitness. I referred to Leonard’s books often when I first started this blog many moons ago. George Leonard was one of the early pioneers of the Human Potential Movement at the Esalen Institute in the 1970s through the 1990s. He was particularly focused on physical performance and the capabilities of the human body.
In that book, originally written in 1974, updated in 1990, and again in 2001, he offered some interesting statistics based on a massive survey published in 1973 by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness And Sports. According to this survey,
“Only 55 percent of all adults in America do any exercise at all. The majority of these reported “walking” as their means of conditioning. Relatively few devoted themselves wholeheartedly to any physical pursuit. When asked why they do exercise, the active 55 percent answered as follows (with some giving more than one reason):
- 23% – FOR GOOD HEALTH: good for my heart; to keep in shape; to stay in good physical condition; I can breathe better.
- 18% – GOOD FOR YOU IN GENERAL: make me feel better; good for me; I feel like it’s good for me.
- 13% – TO LOSE WEIGHT: to keep slim; I like to keep in shape; I’m a little on the heavy side; to flatten my stomach
- 12% – ENJOYMENT: I like doing it; for pleasure and relaxation; for recreation
- 3% – MY DOCTOR TOLD ME TO.”
— The Ultimate Athlete, George Leonard, p. 45
Leonard goes on to say:
“Never before in human history has so much information been so widely available about health; the human body; the unity of body, mind and spirit . . . and the profound influence of lifestyle on our health and well being , , , Best of all, more people than ever are engaging in vigorous physical activity mostly for the sheer joy of it.”
That’s the intrinsic motivation I’ve been writing about the past two weeks.
But now, the bad news. Leonard cites a U.S. Surgeon General’s report in 2000 that says: “more people now than in the 1970s are sedentary”. And a Tuft’s University study showed that 55 percent of women and 63 percent of men over age twenty-five are obese or overweight. At the time, that was the highest rate ever recorded. Statistics vary today but the the percentages of obesity and chronic illness are worse today than then.
The fit get fitter and the weak get weaker.
Leonard said, “What has happened is that the fitness movement has moved millions of people out of the middle toward increased physical activity and body-mind-spirit awareness while technological change and the fast food epidemic has moved other millions out of the middle into decreased physical activity and obesity.”
I have often said that when I write or speak, I am “speaking to the choir”. Most people who read a blog like this one are already aware of the overall health and wellness benefits of exercise, proper eating and other habits, and are taking responsibility for their own health. Most of us in the 55% that exercise at all, do it “FOR GOOD HEALTH” or because we know it is “GOOD FOR US IN GENERAL”.
The question is motivation. How can the other 45 percent be motivativated to move their bodies and eat right. Recall that I wrote two weeks ago that only one in seven who are told by their doctor that they will die much earlier if they don’t exercise and change other habits, will do it. If losing independence, feeling terrible, being far more susceptible to long, lingering, preventable chronic illness, and dying an unpleasant early death isn’t enough to get people started, someone please tell me . . . what is?
Thank you for reading.