On the eve of the Centennial Olympic Games, the Clinton Administration released the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on physical activity and health. This report, comparable to the Surgeon General's 1964 report on tobacco and the 1988 report on nutrition, documents the large volume of scientific and medical evidence that emphasizes the need for this nation to step up its efforts to increase physical activity by all Americans. Because physical inactivity is now seen as a major detriment to the health and well-being of this country, it is critical that the US Congress actively incorporate components on physical activity into this nation's public health agenda.
To raise awareness and promote physical activity, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity was established to unite the public and private sectors into a partnership to inspire Americans to lead physically active lifestyles and enhance their quality of life. More than 100 member organizations have identified physical activity and health as their primary mission. By working together, the National Coalition members will be better able to coordinate and direct numerous public and private efforts to educate people about healthy lifestyles. Facilitated by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; the American College of Sports Medicine; and the American Heart Association, the National Coalition's long-term mission is to motivate more Americans to be physically active.
The benefits of exercise are far-reaching. The links among physical activity, fitness, and health are well established scientifically and medically. The evidence indicates that physical inactivity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular, metabolic, and other diseases. Specifically, a direct connection has been found between exercise and lower death rates from heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, non–insulin-dependent diabetes, brittle bones, some cancers, anxiety, and depression.
Physical inactivity has a massive public health impact. Millions of Americans suffer from illness that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity. For example, 13.5 million people have coronary heart disease and 1.5 million people suffer from a heart attack in a given year. An estimated 250 000 deaths per year in the United States are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity. Well over half, ≈60%, of Americans are not regularly active. Worse yet, 25% of Americans are not active at all. For young people, physical activity declines dramatically during adolescence.
The report also documents a bright future. Its major findings declare that people who are usually inactive can improve their health and well-being by becoming even moderately active on a regular basis. Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount, including the duration, frequency, or intensity, of physical activity. The Surgeon General reported that regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying of some of the leading causes of illness and death in the United States. This is clearly attainable by all Americans.
Examples of moderate amounts of activity include washing and waxing a car for 45 minutes; gardening for 30 minutes; walking 1¾ miles in 35 minutes; and pushing a stroller 1½ miles in 30 minutes.
Although many people know that exercise is good for them, many do not know why, nor do they understand how much or what kind of exercise is right for them. We do know that effective strategies and policies have taken place in settings as diverse as physical education classes in school, health promotion programs at worksites, and counseling by healthcare providers. However, more needs to be learned about what helps individuals change their physical activity habits and how changes in community environments, policies, and social norms might support that process. For this reason, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity has identified five major priority areas for action and will support policies, practices, and strategies at the federal, state, and local levels that are consistent with these recommendations. These priority areas include educational programs for all segments of the population to reduce the prevalence of physical inactivity; investment in biomedical research to ensure the good health and well-being of our nation; expansion of preventive care and health promotion activities; community programs to encourage rather than discourage options to be physically active; and expansion and extension of physical activity/health programs to people with special needs and circumstances.
The Surgeon General's Report and the recommended legislative agenda of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity should serve as the benchmark for future Congressional action to get Americans moving and promote physical activity in America. Physical inactivity adversely affects the health and well-being of all Americans.
- Copyright © 1996 by American Heart Association