Start Today: What Will You Do to Be More Physically Active?

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

My husband and I once had a 101-year-old neighbor named Arlie. One day, after driving my husband to work, I arrived home – at 7:30 a.m. – and Arlie was out raking the leaves in our front yard.

On garbage day, after the garbage trucks had been up and down the street, Arlie used to wheel ours and all the other neighbors’ empty garbage cans back up to our houses.

If there was anyone who could ever convince me that being active could help you live long and well, it was Arlie.  My father is another one – but more on that in a bit.

Today, the American Cancer Society is part of an event to release the newly revised National Physical Activity Plan. The first National Plan was released in 2010, after the creation of the country’s first National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008.

This plan is based on a vision: that one day, all Americans will be physically active, and they will live, work and play in environments that encourage and support regular physical activity.

This is important to the mission of the American Cancer Society, because physical activity reduces the risk of a variety of cancers, and may reduce the risk of recurrence and improve survival, as well.

Currently, only 50% of adults meet minimum physical activity recommendations.  Among youth, in 2012, about 25% of those ages 12 to 15  met recommended levels and in 2013, only 27% of high school students did, according to Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures 2015-2016. Reduced leisure time, increased amounts of time spent sitting, increased reliance on cars for transportation, and increased availability of electronic entertainment and communications media all contribute to lower levels of physical activity.

Research suggests that the way we build our communities  impacts our ability to be physically active. A lack of sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities is associated with greater levels of obesity compared to neighborhoods that make it easier for the people who live there to walk and be active. To get more people  living a physically active life, we need more policies, programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to being active.

And that is what the new plan is all about.  It is a is a comprehensive set of policies, programs, and initiatives designed to help all people in the U.S. increase their physical activity. The plan calls on 9 different groups to play a leading role:

  • Business and Industry
  • Community Recreation
  • Fitness and Parks
  • Education
  • Faith-based Settings
  • Health Care
  • Mass Media
  • Public Health
  • Sport
  • Transportation, Land Use and Community Design

We need all of these sectors to work together to make it possible for everyone in the country to be more physically active.

The new plan also outlines things each of these sectors can do to address the substantial disparities in physical activity that exist across groups based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical, cognitive or sensory ability, and geography.

The goal of the National Physical Activity Plan is to increase physical activity in the U.S. population. For the plan to succeed, many people and groups will need to play a role in implementing it. As an individual, you can speak up: speak up at your workplace for more opportunities to be active during the day; speak up at your kids’ schools for regular physical education and recess; speak up to your city council for sidewalks, bike lanes, and safe parks for your family to enjoy.

I mentioned my father – that he is another one who has convinced me that living a physically active life is key to longevity and good health.  He is 84 years old, and is a runner.  He recently said to me that “all of this eating right and exercising is making me BORING.  All my friends – they sit around talking about all of the medications they are on.  I don’t take any!  I feel like I don’t have anything to talk to them about!”  Way to go, Dad.

What will you do, starting today, to increase your own physical activity, and to help make it easier for others to be more active?

Doyle is managing director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. 

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