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Letter to the Editor: Solutions in play for inactivity epidemic

by Anne Bell | May 10, 2013

Letter to the Editor: Solutions in play for inactivity epidemic
Authored by Robert Sallis, M.D., FACSM, Chair of Exercise is Medicine®

 Our national epidemic of physical inactivity affects every sector of society. A recent Gallup poll on exercise in America highlights that exercise habits have worsened in 2013, but that the country on average reports getting more active in the summer months. In fact we hit a five-year high in July of last year, with 55.3% reporting that they exercised for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week.

The ramifications of inactivity are stark and startling, from individual physical and emotional health and quality of life to student achievement, worker productivity and health care economics. Chilling prophesies abound: the first generation to have shorter life spans than their parents; unsustainable health care costs; military recruits unfit to serve. No industry or community is untouched by these complex challenges.

The solutions, too, are multi-faceted and must involve each of us. Who can sit by and take a pass when our national health, economy, position as world leader and even security are at stake?

Happily, there are hopeful examples afoot. Across the U.S., people are becoming more active and are building a society more conducive to healthy lifestyles. In the spirit of May as Exercise is Medicine Month and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, let me mention a few:

  • Youth sports programs and recreational leagues for people of all ages are highlights for millions of Americans in spring and summer. This helps accomplish a fundamental goal of the burgeoning Designed to Move initiative – to give every child a positive early experience with physical education, sports and physical activity.
  • Trails, paths and bike lanes are growing faster than beachgoers on a hot day. A powerful coalition of private, public and nonprofit organizations are striding ahead with Every Body Walk!, supporting the U.S. Surgeon General’s proposed call to action on walking for health. Co-benefits of active transit include cost savings and reduced environmental impact.
  • The National Physical Activity Plan is being implemented as multi-sector teams (there’s that collaborative notion again) seek policy solutions to help all Americans be more active where they live, work, learn and play.
  • Corporations are increasingly part of the solution. They’re learning that workplace wellness programs yield real savings. They’re investing in programs such as one that builds Live Positively fitness centers in schools (with ACSM as a partner working with Coca-Cola and the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils). They’re encouraging all Americans to "Get the Ball Rolling."
  • Disparities in access to opportunities for healthy exercise are being addressed by the Inclusive Fitness Coalition and other advocates. Schools are providing accessible sports opportunities for students with disabilities; communities are building pocket parks in underserved neighborhoods.

These solutions reflect the ingenuity that people and organizations are bringing to bear on one of the major problems public health problems of our time—physical inactivity. The stakes are high, but so is our collective resolve to help all Americans lead healthier, happier lives. This spring and summer, let’s look for more opportunities to get everyone more physically active.

Robert Sallis, M.D., FACSM
Chair, Exercise is Medicine

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