Alabama adults rank 4th-lowest among states in meeting fitness guidelines
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
May 30, 2013 | 6743 views |  0 comments | 185 185 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jamie Character lifts weights at the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Jamie Character lifts weights at the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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The iron plates of a weightlifting machine yielded to Stephanie Coley's efforts as she pressed her legs on the device Thursday afternoon.

The Oxford resident signed up for a year-long membership at the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center mainly to help her 14-year-old daughter train for a triathlon. Soon after signing up however, the triathlon was canceled. But Coley decided to stick with her workouts anyway.

She has lost 4 pounds in in the last three weeks and has no plans of slowing down.

"I want to get stronger and lose weight," Coley said. "But I have diabetes, so I'm also trying to get healthier so I can get off some of my medication."

Coley is set on improving her health through fitness, but other Alabama residents like her are few and far between, according to recently released statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics show that just 15 percent of Alabama adults in 2011 met national physical activity guidelines, the fourth-lowest rate in the country — numbers directly tied to the state's high levels of obesity and diabetes, experts say.

But efforts are underway statewide and locally, from bicycling trail construction to children’s exercise programs, to encourage physical fitness and improve residents' health.

According to the statistics, the states with lower rates of exercising adults than Alabama were Mississippi at 14.2 percent, and Tennessee and West Viginia, both at 12.7 percent. In the study, for adults to meet the national physical activity guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they had to report engaging in a combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic physical activity between 75 minutes and 150 minutes each week and participate in muscle strengthening at least two times per week.

Coley said her exercise program includes using weight machines, some free weights and a stationary bicycle.

"I really like it," she said.

Since the city opened the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center last year, it has seen consistent use by residents, said Robin Brothers, fitness director at the center.

"Membership is very good," Brothers said.

The facility offers an indoor competitive swimming pool and plenty of weight and cardio machines along with free weights. The center also offers several aerobic and body sculpting exercise classes in the morning and at night. There’s also a basketball court.

Brothers said the center routinely makes efforts to encourage more residents to try out the center.

"We participate in different activities in the city, like health fairs," she said.

For several years, efforts have been underway among volunteers and local leaders to turn the area into a bicycling hub — encouraging races like the Sunny King Criterium and Cheaha Challenge and the construction of cycling trails on Coldwater Mountain.

Mike Poe, former organizer of the Cheaha Challenge, is president of the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association and is involved in the Coldwater Mountain trail project. He said his and others’ efforts are as much about improving fitness as much as recreation for the area.

"We certainly want to have an event for tourism, but we also want to promote a healthy lifestyle and cycling is a great way to do that," Poe said. "It encourages people to set goals ... to start training to reach those goals."

The lack of fitness has taken its toll on Alabama residents.

According to the CDC, 30 percent of Alabamians more than 25 years old are obese and more than 10 percent have some type of diabetes.

"We're suffering from heart disease, obesity and diabetes ... much of that can be impacted by high-intensity exercise," said Dr. Marcas Bamman, director of the UAB Center of Exercise Medicine.

Bamman said exercise — not just better diets — is highly important for healthier lifestyles. Bamman noted that strength training is particularly important. He said adding muscle improves a person's metabolic rate, helping them burn more calories.

"And the more muscle mass you have, the stronger you are," Bamman said. "So when you get into your middle ages or older, it’s important to have light, lean muscle mass to help in daily movements and with carrying things."

On the state level, the Alabama Department of Public Health is using various programs to encourage more residents to get fit. Molly Killman, assistant director for the department's nutrition and physical activity division, said the department's major program is Scale Back Alabama, an annual contest that encourages residents to lose weight.

"It definitely has physical activity all throughout it ... it includes lesson plans that each coordinator gives to their teams," Killman said.

Killman said the ADPH has partnered with the Alabama Department of Education, forming a task force that created a physical fitness test for state schools.

"They are now providing training for the test to all physical activity teachers across the state," she said. "What the state is really striving for is to improve the quality of physical education."

The ADPH has also partnered with the Department of Human Resources to incorporate structured physical activity standards into early child care facilities starting at the end of the summer, Killman said.

"What we want is to reduce the amount of TV time for children at those facilities," she said.

Meanwhile, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce earlier this year completed its first weight-loss competition for business members, with the goal of encouraging healthier lifestyles. Haley Gregg, program development coordinator for the chamber, said more than 70 people participated in the event.

"We plan to do it again — we're actually expecting more people next year," Gregg said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
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