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May 11, 2015

A National Plan to Get America Moving

Proposed changes to our physical and social environments encourage regular physical activity for Americans throughout the course of the day.

In their recent advisory, the American Heart Association asks individuals from all walks of life to get involved in a national plan to increase physical activity and promote better health.

Published recently in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, this paper highlighted the many health benefits associated with exercise and encouraged readers to help implement the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan. First launched in 2010, the National Physical Activity Plan includes a comprehensive set of policies, programs and initiatives aimed at increasing physical activity and improving Americans’ health.

As experts point out, a 2005 study found that less than one-third of Americans meet current guidelines for physical activity, and nearly one in four get no exercise at all. Many underestimate the impact that a lack of physical activity can have on the body. Not only does physical inactivity increase risk of heart disease by 45% and risk of stroke by 60%, it’s listed as one of the top ten causes of death and disability worldwide.

The good news is there’s plenty of evidence around the health benefits of regular exercise. Based on a review of past studies, there’s strong evidence that regular physical activity reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, colon cancer, depression and early death. Research also suggests that staying active promotes a healthy weight, healthy bones and even better sleep.

So how can we ensure that Americans get the physical activity they need for a healthy mind and body? According to the American Heart Association, the key lies in changing how we work, play, learn and travel. Experts explain that our current environments discourage physical activity, especially in places where it’s not safe to walk, bike or move around during the day.

In fact, authors point out that even individuals engaging in a regular exercise program are only active for a small portion of the day. For example, a person that jogs on a treadmill for 45 minutes before work may spend the rest of the day sitting in the car, behind a desk, on the phone or watching television.

Through the National Physical Activity Plan, experts hope to change our physical and social environments to encourage regular physical activity throughout the course of the day. The plan already provides 231 recommendations for changing public sectors like business, education, transportation and parks to promote increased physical activity.

But it’s going to take a village to put these changes into action. The American Heart Association calls on local and individual efforts, as well as efforts from policy makers, the government, community planners and organizations to promote physical activity. To learn more about the National Physical Activity Plan and how to get involved, visit www.physicalactivityplan.org.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • How can I reduce sedentary time?
  • Research continues to show that sedentary time increases cardiovascular risk, regardless of how much leisure time activity we may get. To help reduce sedentary time, cut back on time spent watching TV and replace it with some type of activity, like cleaning or going for a quick walk. For individuals who spend most of the day in front of a computer, get up and take a walk every hour, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Standing desks are also becoming increasingly popular, as they help reduce time spent sitting in front of the computer.

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Move More

Exercising is one of the single best ways to improve and maintain health. Learn more »