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Tennessee named 5th ‘fattest' state; obesity causes deadly diseases, but head of University Rec offers cure

The Tennessee Department of Health called 61 percent of Tennesseans overweight or obese in a 2005 report but, more recently, in an August 2007 report from the Trust for Americas Health, Tennessee had the dubious distinction of being the nations fifth-worst state in percentages of obese citizens.

According to Laura Segal, spokeswoman for the Trust for Americas Health, Tennessee ranks so high because of the poverty rate, inactivity of residents and a lack of places to exercise.
The Tennessee Department of Health called 61 percent of Tennesseans overweight or obese in a 2005 report but, more recently, in an August 2007 report from the Trust for America's Health, Tennessee had the dubious distinction of being the nation's fifth-worst state in percentages of obese citizens.

According to Laura Segal, spokeswoman for the Trust for America's Health, Tennessee ranks so high because of the poverty rate, inactivity of residents and a lack of places to exercise.

“It puts Tennessee residents at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer,” Segal says in the Aug. 28, 2007, edition of The Tennessean.

The report pointed out that 30.5 percent of adults in Tennessee do not engage in any physical exercise, compared with 22 percent nationally.

According to David Davenport, director of University Recreation for Austin Peay State University, it's never too late to start exercising to reverse the tendency toward obesity-related diseases. “Just do it,” Davenport says, echoing the famous Nike slogan.

Davenport believes strongly that healthy bodies and healthy minds go hand in hand. “When someone tells me that all my staff and I do ‘is pick up towels,' I realize how little that person understands the vital role of exercise and recreation on a university campus.

“Faculty and staff who exercise regularly are less likely to miss work due to illness, are less likely to develop long-term heart disease and type 2 diabetes and, because exercise releases endorphins into the blood stream, people who exercise are less prone to depression and anxiety.

“Similarly, students who exercise regularly tend to miss fewer classes because of illness. Exercise relieves stress, so they have less proclivity for depression and anxiety. And someone who is in good physical shape tends to have a better body image, which leads to more self-confidence, which generally leads to a better social life.”

Davenport encourages students, faculty and staff to check out the group fitness classes offered by his staff. From kickboxing to indoor cycling to belly dancing, it's all exercise if it gets you moving. Davenport says a workout doesn't mean you have to sweat for an hour a day playing racquetball or rock-climbing in the Foy Fitness and Recreation Center.

“Don't use ‘I don't have time' as an excuse,” Davenport says. “Everyone can get in 20 minutes three times a day, even if it's just walking up and down the stairs in your building. But be consistentdo your 20 minutes, three times a day every day.

“Not only will your physical health improve, but studies show that exercise increases your mental acuity. On a college campus, being mentally sharp is a big plus.”

Davenport invites faculty, staff and students to check out the facilities available to them through University Recreation in the Foy Fitness and Recreation Center and Drew Simmons Fitness Center in the Memorial Health Building. A new outdoor swimming pool adjacent to the Foy Fitness Center, now under construction, is scheduled to open in early Spring 2008.

“At Austin Peay, we cannot blame our obesity on lack of places to exercise,” Davenport says. “We have one of the top fitness centers in the state. We need to educate ourselves on the benefits to both body and mind in taking advantage of our on-campus fitness facilities.”

For more information, contact Davenport by telephone at (931) 221-7564 or by e-mail at Davenportdl@apsu.edu. -- Dennie B. Burke