Courtesy California Department of Public Health Dr. Ron Chapman, right, seen after an American Lung Association fundraiser in March.
If breaking a sweat sometimes falls off your to-do list, take heart. California's top public health official is right there with you, trying – sometimes in vain – to squeeze in a bike ride or a yoga class.
Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the state Department of Public Health, has been struggling to stick to his New Year's resolution. To encourage Californians to "get physical," he pledged to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week and to do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
Since then, he has chronicled his efforts on the health department's Facebook page. From bike riding to dog walking to stair-climbing, Chapman, 50, posts about his activity, both to serve as a role model and to hold himself accountable.
He started the year strong, posting on Jan. 12:
"My first week of 2012 was very active; I exceeded the goal of moderate physical activity with 160 minutes. Writing down my activities really keeps me motivated, especially when I see a day that had no activity: Jan 1: 45 minute bike ride Jan 2: Strength conditioning for legs at gym Jan 3: No activity."
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But the health chief has found that the stuff of daily life – from head colds to business trips – can easily get in the way. On June 14, he posted:
"Last week was very challenging with physical activity as I was on the road quite a bit. Tough to stay active when on the road. I guess I could have done laps around the airport! I very much missed my target with only 100 minutes of physical activity and no muscle conditioning. I know I will pay the price this week. The 100 minutes was one short bike ride and a lot of walking at work and walking the dogs."
Chapman has been following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Physical Activity Guidelines for Everyone." He estimates he has met his weekly goal about 80 percent of the time.
The CDC recommends that adults get two hours and 30 minutes – 150 minutes – of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as a brisk walking, every week. To count toward that goal, Chapman says exercise should be sustained for at least 10 minutes. In other words, a brisk walk to the office coffee maker doesn’t count. Alternatively, adults can do an hour and 15 minutes – 75 minutes – of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running or swimming laps, every week.
In addition, adults should do muscle-strengthening activity that works all the major muscle groups, like yoga, at least twice a week.
“This isn't about going to the gym," said Chapman in an interview. "This is not about exercising. It’s about physical activity. Gardening can count toward working the muscle groups. I don’t want people to get a picture of someone standing there rigid and lifting a bunch of dumbbells and weights.”
About 31 percent of Californians admit that they do not get the recommended amount of either moderate or vigorous exercise each week, according to the 2010 California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.
The main reason they are not more physically active, they say, is that they’re too busy, according to the 2009 California Dietary Practices Survey.
Chapman admits his biggest obstacle is his schedule: “It’s all based on how busy my life is,” he said.
For instance, he loves yoga, but he finds it difficult to make it to yoga class. “If I get there one night a week, I am lucky,” he said.
Guilt also gets in the way. His says he sometimes feels guilty when he takes time to work out because he already spends so many hours at work. “Sometimes I’ll just skip going for a bike ride because I feel like I need to spend time with my family.”
Making it easier for people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives needs to be a higher priority, the Institute of Medicine concluded in its recent report on the nation’s obesity epidemic. The report's recommendations included providing tax incentives to developers to build sidewalks in communities so that more Americans can bike and walk to the store, school or the office as a matter of course.
“Where I live, I can bike to get my groceries or go to the pharmacy, and I do that. But work, I have biked four times, and I thought I was going to lose my life,” said Chapman, who lives about 18 miles from his office. "A lot of it is just on the roads, and I was competing with huge trucks."
Tracking his activity has inspired Chapman to be more active when he sees himself slipping. “I definitely get more motivated because I can see the weeks where I’m low and I have to make up for it,” he said.
“I think I’m trying to make being physically active real. People need to take small steps. I think that the bottom line is that some physical activity is a whole lot better than none.”