The headline said it all: "More adults say they are exercising." It's the "say" that gives the game away.

Undoubtedly, more adults would "say" that exercise is important, that it makes them feel better, that America is too corpulent for its own good and that children need to exercise to stay healthy.

They would probably also "say" that talk is cheap.

Researchers, using telephone surveys, report that 47 percent of women claimed to exercise in 2005 — up from 43 percent in 2001. The percentage among men went from 48 percent to 50 percent.

The rub, as they say, is not only what people are willing to tell researchers, but what they consider exercise. For some, exercise means 60 minutes on a treadmill. For others, it means walking downstairs to check on the furnace. And some of the easy-does-it gadgets sold on television give the illusion of exercise without providing any cardiovascular benefit. The numbers are confusing because, despite all this "exercise" going on, obesity rates in the nation are not going down and there are indicators that weight-related illnesses — such as heart disease — are on the upswing.

The solution is a reality check. Americans need to take a dry-eyed look not only at what they tell researchers, but what they're telling themselves. Touching your toes 10 times may be better than nothing, but it's not exercise. There must be some "exertion" in exercise. The phrase "no pain, no gain" may be trite, but it's often true.

In a nation of people who hate being inconvenienced for any reason, apparently many people will not even allow exercise to feel inconvenient.

The key, of course, is information. Instead of relying on your own notions of what exercise entails, check with your family doctor and other professionals to find out their version. Many people may be surprised to learn just how hard to they have to work to turn "activity" into true exercise.