If you had one hour of leisure time, would you prefer to spend it browsing online, watching television or exercising? If you said exercising, then you are surprisingly in the vast minority of people in this country.
We have become a country of convenience. We are online instead of outside. We are driving or commuting rather than biking or walking. We are watching sports on TV rather than playing them with our kids. And the results of that are scary.
This week at the Social Good Summit in New York I attended a session about the growth and effects of physical inactivity. Moderated by Adam Ostrow of Mashable, the panel included Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix, President of Nike Charles Denson and Bill Kohl, Research Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas.
Physical inactivity has reached pandemic proportions. In fact, it is growing at such a rapid pace that related healthcare costs have reached an unsustainable level. In the past 1.5 generations, physical activity in the U.S. has declined 32% and is on track for a 46% drop by 2030. Today in this country alone, 43% of the population is not getting enough exercise.
Why does physical inactivity matter?
According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for more than 1 in 5 cases of breast and colon cancer, more than 1 in 4 cases of diabetes and about 3 in 10 cases of heart disease. Additionally, inactivity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, metabolic syndrome and depression.
Get this. As our lives require less physical effort than in past generations, the main opportunity for physical activity is during our leisure time. Yet data shows that the time we currently spend being physically active in our leisure time does not compensate for the drop in physical activity in other areas of our lives. Remember that question above about what you would do with an hour of leisure time? Well, a study published last summer said that if we cut the amount of time spent on sitting around watching TV to less than two hours a day it would add 1.4 years to our life expectancy.
As if the health benefits of physical activity were not enough, studies show that communities which have more physical activity have community cohesion, crime reduction and better safety statistics.
What does this mean for our kids’ generation?
For the first time in history, children today are projected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, and experts say the cause of the decline is physical inactivity. Additionally, physically inactive kids are less healthy, miss more days of school, have lower academic achievement, are less likely to go to college and have decreased earnings potential in adulthood.
Sadly, American teenagers today are half as active as their grandparents were as teenagers. From age 9 to 15, physical activity decreases by 38 minutes per year, a whopping 75% decline over six years. Our kids are dropping out of sports in droves during those years and not replacing them with other physical activities. Studies also find that by age 9 there is a gender gap with boys being more physically active than girls.
The recommended guidelines for physical activity are:
- At least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity daily in children and youth ages 5–17
- At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week in adults aged 18 and over
The recently released Designed to Move report by Nike states that up to age 10 children are developing their preferences and motivations for physical activity. Early adolescence is the time when we as parents can instill a passion for exercise, sports or other physical activities. As parents, we must encourage our children to be physically active rather than sedentary, to reduce screen time and instead help them to find the physical activities which they can enjoy for a lifetime. We need to teach our children the value of being active.
The best way to benefit both our children and ourselves is to lead by example. According to the study, preschoolers with active mothers or fathers are 2-to-3.5 times as likely to be active than children with inactive parents. When children have two active parents they are 5.8 times more likely to be active themselves.
As employers we must encourage physical activity among our staff. As companies, we must seek to create products and services that encourage physical activity. As educators, we must stop eliminating physical activity from the curriculum and recognize the damage that cutting these programs is having on the children we seek to educate. Instead, we must encourage physical activity as part of the school curriculum, given the statistics which state clearly that a physically active child will attend more days of school and achieve higher test scores throughout the school year. As communities, we must recognize that our well-being relies on our levels of physical activity.
As Bill Kohl said during the Social Good Summit, physical activity simply has to be made a priority. Our health depends on it.