Too many people in the U.S. are physically inactive, which contributes to chronic disease, excessive health care costs, and premature death. To combat this national healthcare crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed the national initiative “Active People, Healthy NationSM.” The goal is to get 27 million Americans more physically active by the year 2027. Now is the time to prioritize this goal. COVID-related lockdowns led to unfortunate declines in habitual physical activity, worsening trends that existed before the pandemic.
Increased habitual and purposeful physical activity improves health and quality of life and reduces health care costs. Recent statistics from the CDC are alarming: only about 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 6 high school students fully meet physical activity guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Moreover, about 31 million adults over the age of 50 are completely inactive — that is, they get no physical activity beyond that of daily living. Numerous other studies continue to show that Americans are sedentary (e.g., spend too much time sitting). Low physical activity and obesity even impair our military’s readiness. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 adults are too heavy to serve in the military. Beyond the military, physical inactivity and obesity are often the toxic precursors to type 2 diabetes in the general population.
The laudable goals of Active People, Healthy NationSM are to:
Shift 15 million adults who currently get no aerobic activity to getting some moderate-intensity activity every day, like brisk walking,
Move 10 million adults who get some physical activity to meeting the minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines, and
Get 2 million children to move from some physical activity to meeting the minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines.
The CDC will monitor these physical activity levels through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Health Interview Survey.
Physical inactivity is an individual problem and a community problem. The societal cost of our collective inactivity is staggering — it has been estimated that inadequate physical activity is associated with $117 billion in annual health care costs. Moving the needle will require the implementation of multiple strategies. For example, many communities need better walking and bike paths, and school programs should encourage daily physical activity and movement. Health care providers, from pediatricians to geriatricians, and including nurses and physical therapists, should emphasize the critical importance of physical activity to their patients — at every single visit. Referrals to qualified fitness/exercise professionals and physical activity resources should be commonplace. And Congress should pass the Personal Health Investment Act of 2021 (S.844, the “PHIT” Act), which would allow the use of flex spending and health savings accounts to be used for health club memberships and home fitness equipment, making it financially easier to engage in healthy behaviors.
While nearly everyone is already aware of the importance of regular exercise and physical activity to improve health, fewer appreciate that even a single bout of exercise has been shown to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms, and lower blood pressure. These benefits compound over time. Near-daily exercise favorably impacts the heart and blood vessels, the brain, the bones, reduces fall risk, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. And every step counts — even small increases in physical activity and reductions in time sitting translate to improved health. These added steps will move us closer to the objectives set forth by the CDC.
The goals of Active People, Healthy NationSM are ambitious but doable. Community-focused efforts to improve health and wellbeing by increasing physical activity should be undertaken with the same urgency as prior campaigns to reduce smoking. This urgency is needed when considering the myriad adverse consequences of physical inactivity.
Time will tell whether these efforts are successful, but we must move now to reach the 2027 goals.
Bill Farquhar is a professor and associate dean in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware and vice-president of the American College of Sports Medicine. Lynette Craft is the former chief science officer of the American College of Sports Medicine.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: It's time to get our kids — and all of us, really — moving again