Making an Urgent Case for Physical Activity

Mary Dell writes: From the moment we know our children exist, months before we lay eyes on them, we hope and pray for their good health. Unfortunately, the news that Lisa and I learned last week at the Social Good Summit is not all good.  At a session titled Designed to Move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda, a terrible statistic was flashed on the screen behind the speakers:

Today’s youth could be the first generation in history not to outlive its parents’ generation. They are on track to have a life expectancy that is five years shorter.

The reason? physical inactivity.

Charles Denson, Nike brand president; Allyson Felix, Olympic gold medalist; Dr. Bill Kohl, Professor of Epidemiology and Kinesiology at the University of Texas; and the moderator, Adam Ostrow from Mashable took the stage to present study findings titled Designed to Move (DTM). Denson spoke about how his company has teamed up with 70 other organizations around the world to shed light on the risks of physical inactivity.

These chilling statistics were presented for the US:

The typical child in the US becomes 75% less active between the ages of 9 – 15.

Physical activity in the US has declined 32% during the last 44 years.

The direct cost of inactivity will lead to a 113% increase in health care costs by 2030.

DTM is targeting kids up to age 10 (and their parents and schools) with two major initiatives:

1. Create Early Positive Experiences for Children – A generation that enjoys positive experiences in physical education, sports and physical activity early in life has the chance to shape the new future. This generation could break cycles of inactivity where they already exist, or prevent them before they start.

2. Integrate Physical Activity into Everyday Life – Economies, cities and cultures can be shaped and designed to encourage and enable physical movement. In fact, some already are. These are the bright spots. To ensure a better future for all, they need to be the norm.

So what about the rest of us who don’t have young kids around the house or don’t interact with that age group?  Does this mean that we can smugly go about our business as if the risks don’t apply to us?

The answer, of course, is no.

After the Summit, Dr. Kohl referred me to a series of papers published in July in The Lancet to which he contributed. Referring to them as “the best current science in the area,” they were published with the summer Olympics as a global backdrop. Here is a brief excerpt:

There is substantial evidence to show that physical inactivity is a major contributor to death and disability from non-communicable diseases (NCD) worldwide…. Unlike…tobacco, diet, and alcohol, the importance of physical activity has been slow to be recognised, and the emphasis to tackle it as a population level has not been forthcoming.

As I now sit (!) at my computer (which I do for a good part of my day) reading about the dangers of a sedentary life (the irony is not lost), I note that inactivity causes “9% of premature mortality ….which is as many deaths as tobacco causes.”  Clearly, I have been seduced by the on-line benefits that I enjoy –  reading the news, blogging, emailing, ordering groceries, looking at the latest photos on FB and much, much more – and turned a blind eye to the toxicity of my relationship with my computer. And I know I am far from alone.

Whether we have the responsibility of young children to raise or merely our own health to tend, to paraphrase Nike, on a global basis, we all better just move it!


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