February 23, 2009 / 11:16 AM / 10 years ago

Experts hope pyramid power will motivate couch potatoes

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) Fitness experts have created the MyActivity Pyramid in the belief that if a picture is worth a thousand words, it can surely help Americans shed a few pounds.

A handout graphic shows the MyActivity Pyramid: Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults. REUTERS/Handout

Developed at University of Missouri Extension, the MyActivity Pyramid takes MyPyramid, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid that has touted healthy eating habits since 1992, and turns that visual aid on its ear.

“Our idea was to rotate MyPyramid to the right to focus on the steps which obviously represent physical activity,” said Steve Ball, associate professor of exercise physiology in the university’s College of Human Environmental Sciences.

To that end the MyActivity Pyramid, which was developed privately by the university, proffers a multi-layered representation of the 2008 Physical Activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to the HHS, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. For weight-loss, five hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or two hours and 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week is recommended.

“The (MyActivity) pyramid offers a variety of ways that adults can achieve these recommendations to improve their health and quality of life,” Ball explained.

At the base of the pyramid are everyday activities, including biking, yard work, household chores and walking. The next level includes aerobic activities such as jogging, swimming or tennis. Strength and flexibility activities are on the third level.

“Sixty-six percent of Americans are either overweight or obese,” said Robin Gammon, a dietitian at Missouri University Extension.

“Adults can use the MyActivity Pyramid as a visual reminder to be active by posting it on their refrigerator or bulletin board,” she told Reuters.

Gammon said the HHS guidelines were the first major review of the science on the benefits of physical activity in more than 10 years.

But information is not action. Just how effectively these cartoons inspire Americans to new and healthier behaviors remains a question.

The much-revised MyPyramid itself evolved from food wheel of the 1950s. While more than 80 percent of Americans recognize the food pyramid, a USDA survey found that only 2 percent to 4 percent eat according to its principles.

So just how useful is this latest incarnation?

“I do think that the pyramid is an effective tool for promoting fitness because it does cover the basics,” Dr. Kenneth McCulloch, Clinical Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the NYU School of Medicine, said.

“It is a very good, brief, visual reminder. However, it does have some limitations,” he said, referring to its non-specificity.

People participate in a YogaWorks class in Santa Monica, California in this handout picture taken early 2009. REUTERS/Handout

“It recommends the same level and distribution of activity for all adults 18-64,” he said.

But McCulloch added that people who exercise regularly are physiologically younger than their chronologic age, across all demographics.

“I do tell patients regardless of their specifics that exercise is the fountain of youth,” McCulloch said.

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