Since 1983, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has designated May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.

Designed to highlight the importance of daily exercise and encourage Americans to become more active, the council offers numerous ideas to help individuals and families find ways to improve their health through physical activity.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, an advisory committee of volunteers, works through the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services to advise the President about physical activity, fitness, and sports in America.

The council promotes physical activity for health, fitness and enjoyment for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Designating a month is a means to inform and inspire everyone to make a lifelong commitment to physical activity that is imperative for good health.

With our local beaches, bike paths, parks and community programs, it’s easier than ever to get active without a large financial investment.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a sedentary lifestyle is a strong risk factor for many diseases.

Studies show that physical inactivity, combined with poor eating habits, contributes to 300,000 preventable deaths a year in the U.S.

Daily physical activity helps with weight loss and can dramatically reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

Regular activity also helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent or retard osteoporosis and reduce symptoms of arthritis.

Exercise can minimize depression and stress, provide a social outlet and improve self-esteem and energy.

Finding the time for exercise may seem difficult, but scheduling time for it, along with other activities, and committing to it reap great rewards.

“Balance, and thinking ‘long-term’ are important when it comes to getting in shape,” says Sonki Hong, owner of Sonki Fitness.

To be healthy, adults over 18 need only 30 minutes of physical activity, five or more days a week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The activity doesn’t even have to happen all at once.

Breaking it into smaller segments of ten or 15 minutes throughout the day still provides significant health benefits.

For those who haven’t made regular physical activity a part of their lives, small steps can lead to big changes, according to experts. Incorporating walking into everyday life is one of the easiest ways to increase activity.

Walking instead of driving, replacing coffee or smoking breaks with walking, and walking instead of watching TV are all ways to incorporate movement into a busy day.

Other suggestions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services include washing the car by hand, doing exercises while watching TV, doing yard work, using a push mower to mow the lawn, dancing and taking the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator.

Including the family in activities is a way to improve everyone’s health while spending time together.

According to experts, the number of overweight children and teens has doubled in the past two decades.

Children and teens need 60 minutes of activity a day for their health, but with TV and computers it’s harder for youths to be active.

Parents are encouraged to take hikes, walk or engage in other outdoor activities with their children and encourage them to join sports teams.

Illness and injuries prevent some from exercising, but taking easy steps can help strengthen the entire body.

For Michele Manzella, owner of M3 Beads in Santa Monica, movement is essential.

As a former professional dancer for 40 years who has had three hip replacements, she walks, even though she still has pain.

“There’s no choice, because if you don’t keep moving your body shuts down,” Manzella says. “I sit a lot when I’m doing my artwork and jewelry designs and I make sure I bend and kick my legs.”

Manzella, who uses music as a motivator, stretches in the morning in bed and before going to sleep to help stay limber and improve sleep.

“Movement doesn’t have to be big if you’re really in pain,” she says. “Move as much as you can, which is better than not doing anything.

“It hurts to move, but it hurts anyway, so you might as well be in shape.”

To stay motivated experts suggest joining an exercise group or working out with a friend.

Finding an activity you enjoy with others raises the chance of successfully staying with it.

To avoid boredom, experts suggest jumpstarting your routine by changing the time of day you exercise or taking up a new activity, like adding strength training to your aerobic routine.

Recognizing and rewarding improvements are also a way to stay motivated, according to experts.

“Stay positive and remember that fitness is a goal for life,” Hong says.

Information, www.fitness.gov and

www.presidentschallenge.org

Julie Kirst can be reached at juliekirst@yahoo.com

Share