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Exercise in the United States

Question: Hi Teacher Joe. I travelled to the United States last month and was surprised to see so many overweight people. I thought Americans were very active and liked to play sports. Do people ever excercise there? Mr. Li in Lanzhou.

Answer: Hello Mr. Li in Lanzhou! Every time I return home, I am shocked by the size of some people. Though these large people do stand out, especially compared to the people in Asia, it is still a small percentage of the people. Many people try to maintain their health, though with various levels of success. Here are the most popular forms of exercise in the United States:

1. Competitive Sports: It seems Americans spend more and more time watching sports on TV, but we still love to play sports too. If you go through my hometown when the weather is nice, you'll find people playing all kinds of sports. There are plenty of free tennis and basketball courts, as well as grass fields for soccer or baseball. There are public golf courses that are not too expensive. Indoors, people also play basketball, and ice hockey is popular in the northern United States.

2. Jogging: Many people run for exercise. They run slowly along the streets and in the parks. They run early in the morning, during their lunch hour, after work, or late at night. They run in just about any weather, including rain and snow. You can see joggers just about any time of the day or night, except maybe in the business district.

3. Walking: For some people, jogging is too hard on the joints - knees and ankles take a lot of punishment while running, even if the running is just a slow jog. So, more and more people have taken up walking. My sister often goes out walking during her lunch hour, and even carries weights in each hand to make it more challenging. In the winter, some people go to the indoor shopping malls just to walk, not to shop. In fact, they often go before any of the stores are open, and just walk through the whole mall many times. They usually walk with friends so they can chat together, making their exercise go by more quickly.

4. Aerobics: Many women, and even some men, use this dance-like exercise to stay in shape. It gets the heart rate up to an "optimum" level for losing weight, and has a "cool down" stage at the end to help the heart recover. There are three general ways to do aerobics. You can go to a gym where there's a live teacher; you can watch a teacher on TV and follow along; or you an buy a video and follow along. They gym is the most interesting, as many women wear tight, colorful clothes to show off how successful they've been! However, going to a gym can be expensive, and it's not the most convenient way to exercise. It's much more convenient to stay at home and follow along with the TV. Buying a video is even more convenient, since you can use it whenever you have free time, however, with a video there's very little variety.

5. Weightlifting: With the continued popularity of Arnold Schwartzenegger, who is Governor of California as this is being written, more and more people (and not just men!) are taking up weightlifting. Not many people reach the point where they can show off their muscles on stage, but the positive health effects of "body building" are available to anyone willing to work at it two or three times a week. Most gyms in my hometown are quite full on evenings and weekends and I have to admit that I work with weights when I have the time. I find that the day after a hard workout, I have much more energy than usual, even though my muscles may hurt!

6. Noncompetitive Sports: When the weather is good in my hometown, you can see people bicycling and roller skating wherever you go. Fortunately, my hometown is not so big with only about 200,000 inhabitants, so there are plenty of places for cyclists and skaters. For indoor exercise, swimming and ice skating are also popular in my hometown. In recent years, yoga has become more and more popular.

So you see, Mr. Li, there are all kinds of ways Americans use to try to stay in shape. Of course, it doesn't help if people eat too much fast food or snack foods, which is why you see so many overweight Americans. As a result, there are all kinds of diet plans in the U.S. Some diets aim at general good health, while others aim at fast weight loss. If you're interested, you can read more about diets HERE. Well, I have to go get some exercise. I think I'll head to the gym! Maybe I'll see you there?!?

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