Rest for the Weary

Nancy Marie Brown
June 01, 1996

Exercise! we're told. Lift weights! Swim laps! Peddle that bike! Run those miles. Step to it! It's the fountain of youth—or if not, at least the best way we know to stay, or become, the picture of health.

Or is it? One group of Americans, at least, believes it's more important to get some rest.

African-Americans, according to an exploratory study by epidemiologist Shiriki Kumanyika and health educator Collins Airhihenbuwa, may consider their lives stressful enough—and exercising just adds to the stress. "The major point of this paper," says Kumanyika, "is to ask, not what they are not doing, but what they are doing.

"It seems that some may be trying to balance out activities that may require a certain amount of rest. It may be that African-Americans, rather than exercising, are doing something else they feel is health-promoting—resting."

Kumaniyika and Airhihenbuwa queried 53 urban African-Americans, all from southcentral Pennsylvania, most earning less than $20,000, and some who were single parents; they met in 10 focus groups organized by age. Since most surveys show that African-Americans spend less of their leisure time exercising than do White Americans, the researchers asked, Why? No time, no money, and no safe place to do it were some of the answers. But so was their health. Most said their daily work involved exercise and they didn't see themselves as needing more. "They said, Rest is important because you stress your body. You get rest to have more energy,'" Kumanyika says. "Exercise may be seen as expending energy—as a stress.

"There is still a cultural perception of laboring in the field,' of trying to get to the point where you can rest," she notes. "If these attitudes are prevalent, it's going to be hard to get people to exercise, because some will see rest as a competing activity. Studies of exercise adherence and the planning of exercise programs don't take into account these kinds of attitudes about exercise, or alternative activities that people might be doing at the time. This knowledge will help us design health programs."

Shiriki Kumanyika, Ph.D., M.P.H., is professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Biostatistics and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, 500 University Dr, Box 850, Hershey, PA 17033; 717-531-7547. Collins Airhihenbuwa, Ph.D., M.P.H., is associate professor and head of the department of health education in the College of Health and Human Development, 1 White Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; 814-863-0435. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Reported by Steve Benowitz.

Last Updated June 01, 1996