Physical Activity and Fitness
Key Questions (by Lisa Rainey and Maria Rutecki)
In their 1998 book Physical Activity and Behavioral Medicine, Sallis and Owen explore the positive relationship between physical activity and health, as well as ways in which to engage people to become more active. Kahn et al. prove in a systematic review that a variety of approaches to increasing physical activity are effective, including informational, environmental, and policy changes. While the health benefits are relatively well-known, the U.S. federal and state governments are working to help people become active and enjoy them via a variety of strategic promotional approaches. The Bush Administration’s 2002 Executive Order established a President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports to encourage national awareness, cooperation, and engagement in physical activity. As part of the broader HealthierUS Initiative, the government’s sponsorship of the promotion of physical activity is meant to contribute to longer, higher quality lives. The National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity keeps track of the most recent promotional bills to pass through congress. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control is a very active sponsor for physical activity in the U.S. They provide information about state physical fitness programs, as well as their own national initiatives aiming to reduce major risk factors for chronic disease.
Environmental policy and planning are integral to promoting physical activity. Studies show that physical environment has a strong impact on physical activity. Especially for populations most at risk for sedentary lifestyles, environmental and policy approaches to encourage physical activity like walking trail construction and promotion are being highly advocated. Significant to public health, physical fitness as encouraged through environment and policy can aid in the prevention of chronic conditions like those associated with obesity, diabetes, and Cardio-Vascular Disease.
Both Federal and state governments have come to embrace this strong correlation, and even extend it to community design for public health benefits and to reduce the costs that accompany an inactive population. The planning of public transit infrastructure and transportation methods is becoming increasingly considerate of public health issues associated with physical activity promotion.
The National Blueprint: Increasing Physical Activity Among Adults Aged 50 and Older has been developed to serve as a guide for multiple organizations, associations and agencies, to inform and support their planning work related to increasing physical activity among America’s aging population. One important participant of the Blueprint coalition was the AARP, which offers many suggestions and creative ways to motivate the elderly to exercise.
Although many of the chronic conditions plaguing older populations are preventable through appropriate lifestyle interventions such as regular physical activity, persons in this age group represent the most sedentary segment of the adult population. Part of improving physical fitness in the elderly is to have incentives and motivation behind exercise. The National Council on Aging sponsored a new national competition to identify the “best” physical activity programming for older adults. The competition will award $1,000 to 10 community-based organizations that achieve excellence in physical activity programming targeted at improving the health and well being of older Americans. The council also has a Vision Paper, with suggestions for increasing physical activity among the elderly. In order to measure the changes caused by physical activity in the elderly, there need to be effective ways of evaluating their improvement, in order to properly help them promote physical fitness.
Children in the U.S. today are less fit than they were a generation ago and are showing early signs of increased cardiovascular disease risk such due to weight gain. A primary way to prevent obesity among children and encourage health wellness through adolescence into adulthood is through education; schools should educate their students on the benefit of physical fitness. Children need to recognize the importance of exercise.
One idea to help promote physical exercise is to start strength building programs (link not found, 2/14/2007) in schools, because strength training is often overlooked in school children and it contributes to a long, healthy lifestyle. Another policy to improve children’s fitness is by increasing access to safe parks, in order to encourage walking groups. Parents are just as important in promoting physical fitness in their children.
The Physical Activity for Youth Policy Initiative, sponsored by the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, seeks to provide a means for advocates and policymakers to address the issue of physical inactivity.