Enquirer Herald

Winthrop Poll: Stress, lack of exercise prevalent in S.C.

Nearly one-third of South Carolinians don't get any regular exercise and nearly one-third of the state's population feels stressed, but the two conditions aren't necessarily related.

Those are among the results from health-related questions in the latest Winthrop Poll, which for the most part backed what state health officials have been saying for years. Despite some recent improvements, South Carolina has too many physically inactive people, too many who don't eat right and too many who don't get care when they're sick.

For instance, 68.5 percent of the poll respondents said they had done strenuous exercise in the past month, including 29.4 percent who exercise two of fewer times a week, 25.9 percent who exercise three to five times a week and 11.6 who exercise more than five times a week. That's all good, but 31.2 percent said they hadn't exercised in the previous month.

"To me, the more telling part of it is the number who said no, who said that they had done no vigorous exercise in the past month," said Russ Pate, a USC exercise science professor who has served on several national physical activity task forces. "That's higher than you see in national surveys, and that's alarming."

In another survey cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 27 percent of South Carolinians in 2007 reported they didn't exercise routinely. The lack of exercise often is listed among the reasons for the rapid rise in the number of overweight and obese people in the state, now up to one-third of the population.

"Preaching (about the importance of exercise) is not enough to get this to change," Pate said. "What needs to change is our communities. If people have good access to exercise options, they're more likely to be active."

Building more sidewalks and walking trails would help, as would employers setting up programs that encourage workers to be more active, Pate said.

The national exercise guideline is 30 minutes daily, and it doesn't have to be strenuous. Taking your dog on a long walk would fit the guidelines.

Bryan Madden, CEO of the YMCA of Columbia, believes 10 percent of the population wouldn't exercise even if they lived in a YMCA building. Another 10 percent are so fanatical they would exercise if they were dropped in the middle of a desert. The key is get the other 80 percent to find some form of exercise that connects with them, Madden said.

If they enjoy doing it, they'll keep doing it.

And if they can stick to a moderate exercise program, they might even see their stress rate drop. One-third of respondents in the Winthrop Poll said they felt stressed for much of the previous day.

But among those who exercised three to five times a week, the stress level dropped to 25 percent. Oddly, those who exercise only two or fewer times and those who exercise strenuously five times or more per week didn't see a similar drop in stress.

The other function in the good-health equation is eating right, and more than half the respondents (56 percent) to the Winthrop Poll said they had eaten healthy the entire previous day.

Of course, almost half of the respondents (43.3 percent) admitted not eating right, and "People tend to think that their diet is better than it is," said Brie Turner-McGrievy, an assistant professor in the USC Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior. "They don't know they're eating too much sodium. They don't know they're eating too much fat. If you analyze their diet, you see it's not as healthy as they think."

Educating people on healthy options is important. Considering the obesity rate in the state, "obviously we're not doing something right," Turner-McGrievy said.

With all health issues, the economic component can't be ignored.

The Winthrop Poll found 23.4 percent of respondents felt they couldn't afford healthy meals. "Medicaid numbers have grown tremendously," said Jeff Stensland, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Medicaid in the state.

"It's up to almost 1 million patients every month. That used to be the yearly numbers, now it's monthly numbers."

Still, many aren't seeing doctors when they need them, with 31 percent of respondents in households making less than $40,000 annual income saying the cost of care had kept them from seeking care in the past year.

The numbers of those who can't afford care may decrease, and the numbers on the Medicaid books are expected to go up in 2014 when new provisions of the Affordable Care Act covering childless adults kick in, Stensland said.