Why Aren’t We More Active? New Guidelines Provide Evidence, Strategies for Effective Policies

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America’s sedentary lifestyle contributes to our too high rates of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. Now, the 2nd edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides new research on the benefits of physical activity, including lower risk of several types of cancer, weight loss, improved quality of life, and lower risk of death from any cause. AICR’s recent blog post from Dr. Anne McTiernan describes the Guidelines’ recommendations to move more and sit less, including benefits for cancer prevention and cancer survivors.

For the first time the Guidelines include recommendations for policy-makers and communities to take actions to help increase physical activity among Americans. The evidence on the benefits of physical activity for improved health are clear, but few people even come close to meeting activity recommendations. The alarming fact is that only about one in five adults and one in four high school students regularly get enough physical activity needed for good health.

AICR is committed to helping increase physical activity on a population level and is working with partners to raise awareness among policy-makers about the many health, social, and potential health care cost savings benefits of physical activity. AICR and partners also advocate for policies that make it easier for people to incorporate more physical activity into their daily routine.

On November 13, AICR participated in a Congressional briefing to educate Members of Congress, their staff, and other partners on the new Guidelines and the importance of enacting public policies that make it easier for people to meet the evidence-based recommendations. The briefing featured:

  • a co-chair of the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee – an accomplished physical activity researcher – who described their committee’s main findings and recommendations;
  • the lead federal government official on the development of the guidelines, who provided an overview of key findings;
  • a former professional athlete and national youth sports program leader, who described the benefits of sports for children’s health and development; and
  • an 11-year inclusive physical activity advocate and her mother, who shared their personal story about how physical activity has drastically improved their physical function and quality of life.

In addition to helping individuals find creative ways to boost activity, AICR knows the importance of policies and environments in influencing people’s ability to easily engage in physical activity. Unfortunately, our shared public spaces – communities, schools, and workplaces – are not designed in a way that make it easy for us to fit regular physical activity into our daily lives. These are some evidence-based community strategies recommended by the Guidelines:

  • Improving the quality of K-12 physical education and increasing opportunities for youth to be active before, during, and after the school day;
  • Increasing access to fitness facilities in communities and worksites, public parks, trails and green spaces that provide places for people to be active, combined with education and outreach to increase awareness;
  • Planning and funding public education campaigns that combine physical activity messages delivered through multiple channels with community activities focused on physical activity;
  • Changing the local living environment to make it easier and more natural for people to be active by locating homes near other destinations and making walking, biking and wheelchair routes safer and more connected.

We know a lot about what works to increase physical activity on a community or population level. It’s time we put what we know into practice for the health of our people and our country.


Author: Melissa Maitin-Shepard, MPP

Melissa Maitin-Shepard, MPP, is a public policy consultant for AICR. She has more than a decade of experience developing, analyzing, and advocating for evidence-based strategies to improve nutrition and physical activity, prevent cancer, and promote public health. For more information about Melissa, please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-maitin-shepard-694a30a/.

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