Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Calling all couch potatoes . . .

couch-potato Yes, I mean you in front of the TV, you in front of the computer, you sitting in your armchair reading and you whiling away the day playing Sudoku. If the majority of your week is spent with sporadic or no physical activity, you are a couch potato.

According to “American Word Origins,” few terms of our generation have an exact date of creation, but “couch potato” is one that does.

In 1976, according to its trademark registration, Tom Iacino of Pasadena used the phrase “boob tubers” in a phone conversation when referring to people relaxing in front of the TV. He then substituted the word potato as a synonym for tuber. Picturing where a potato might sit watching the tube, Iacino came up with the term “couch potato,” and the rest is history.

Actually, it was Iacino’s friend Bob Armstrong, another member of the “boob tubers,” who drew a cartoon of a potato on a couch, registered the trademark and made money selling couch potato Tshirts, books and newsletters. Goes to show you, Armstrong was a more ambitious couch potato than most.

So what’s wrong with being a couch potato? Aren’t we exercising our brain by watching all that educational content on TV or by browsing the Internet or playing brain games like Sudoku? Maybe so, but while our brain may be active, our bodies are sedentary. Not so bad, you say? According to a 2006 medical study, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

Lack of exercise causes muscles to shrink and weaken, making us more susceptible to injury. It also reduces our immune system and can contribute to, or be a risk factor for, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and many other serious ailments.

Consider 60-year-old Fran. She is relatively healthy and thin but admits she’s a couch potato. Given her sedentary lifestyle, she has a 30 percent greater risk for premature death than an obese person. What’s more, inactivity is associated with a greater risk of mortality in women than in men.

According to an American National Health Interview Survey, over one-third of adults are considered inactive. And almost 60 percent of adults who responded to the survey say they never participated in vigorous physical activity lasting more than 10 minutes a week.

Kind of makes you want to stand up and take a walk around the block once or twice, right?

Enter the “father of aerobics,” Kenneth Cooper, founder of The Cooper Institute. The Institute focuses on developing programs to help sedentary people become and stay physically active—for a lifetime.

One of their courses, Active Living for Everyday Life (ALED), works to empower participants to overcome their barriers to physical activity. Those in the class find ways to fit physical activity into their daily lives and maintain active lifestyles even when difficult situations arise.

Besides helping to prevent disease, the numerous benefits of regular physical activity include building strength and stamina, preventing bone loss, improving balance and fostering an enhanced outlook on life.

Thanks to the combined efforts of Senior Concerns and SCAN Health Plan, The Cooper Institute’s nationally renowned program will be offered to a select group of seniors in our area. The class meets once a week for 14 weeks beginning Sept. 13 at 3:30 p.m. at Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks.

Participants should be 60 years or older and not physically active on a regular basis. The full 14- week commitment is required, and the program is free.

Anyone interested in participating should call the SCAN Resource Center at (805) 658-0365.

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Tags: exercise and aging

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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