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Medical and treadmill consumer ratings show treadmills offer a popular route to health

The Surgeon General has issued an important new prescription for the nation's health and the surprising thing is not how important exercise is. It's how easy it is.

"Many sedentary people probably don't realize how little effort it takes to meet the Surgeon General's recommendation of burning about 150 calories a day," said Gregg Hartley, executive director of the Fitness Products Council.

A 150-pound person could meet the requirement by walking at a moderate pace, say 3 mph, on a treadmill for 20 minutes in the morning and again for 17 minutes in the evening, Hartley said. If the pace were quickened to 4 mph, the time could be cut to 27 minutes a day.

"If Americans really hear how important it is to their health to become more active--and how little exertion it takes to accomplish it--the exercise boom of the 1980s will seem small compared to what happens in the 21st century," Hartley said.

Sales of exercise equipment, such as treadmills, will benefit from any such boom, Hartley said, because well-built equipment offers the most efficient way to meet the Surgeon General's recommendation. In fact, millions of American's have been buying treadmills for that very reason.

American consumers in 1995 spent an estimated $1.3 billion on treadmills for home use, Hartley said, making them the most popular home exercise machine. This is more than three times the $400 million spent in 1988, when statistics were first compiled. Well-constructed, motorized treadmills with computerized, programmable display capabilities have suggested retail prices of $1,495 - $2,795, Hartley added.

Between 1987 and 1995, the number of Americans who worked out on a treadmill grew 573%, from 4.4 million to 29.6 million, according to annual surveys by American Sports Data, Inc., Hartsdale, N.Y.

"The growth in treadmill use is linked directly to the boom in fitness walking," Hartley said, "and both are tied to increasing activity by people aged 45 and older--people who took the Surgeon General's advice to heart before it was even issued."

In an effort to attract individuals who "hate" exercise, The Surgeon General's report recommends a wide range of activities, from washing and waxing a car to social dancing, but Hartley believes many people will gravitate to treadmills.

"The beauty of exercise machines is their efficiency," Hartley said. "Good ones are built for the specific purpose of meeting the Surgeon General's recommendations. The computers tell you how fast you are going, how many calories you are burning and how long you need to continue. You can get the job done faster and leave no doubt you've achieved your goal.

"Machines also encourage you to do what your body wants to do: increase your effort after you begin to become more fit. This produces additional health benefits."

Machines are great educators. People take what they learn about their bodies from machine exercise and apply it to less structured exercise, such as lawn work, walking or running.

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