Speaking at APA’s 117th Annual Convention, Steven Blair, PED, called Americans’ physical inactivity “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century.”
Quick, raise your hand if you snickered when you read the word biggest because you were picturing just how big and fat Americans are. Now take your raised hand and slap yourself across the face for being so insensitive.
Really though, there are surely much bigger global problems relating to health, especially in regards to disease control, access to clean water, nutritional deficiencies, etc.
Research has shown approximately 25 percent to 35 percent of American adults are inactive, Blair said, meaning that they have sedentary jobs, no regular physical activity program and are generally inactive around the house or yard. “This amounts to 40 million to 50 million people exposed to the hazard of inactivity,” Blair said in an interview.
Putting the hyperbole aside, it is an often accepted and mistaken bit of common knowledge that weight can determine a person’s health. Many young men and women diet and exercise with the goal of changing their weight to a particular amount, and are occasionally briefly successful. Others do not exercise, or do so rarely, but are not considered overweight so it is assumed that they are healthy.
One follow-up study of 40,842 longitudinal study participants showed poor fitness level accounted for about 16 percent of all deaths in both men and women. The percentage was calculated by estimating the number of deaths that would have been avoided if people had spent 30 minutes a day walking.
The reality is that everyone should make it a goal to be physically active to at least a moderate level. Cardiovascular exercises in particular seem to be strongly correlated with longevity and better health, physical and mental, well into old age. Most people should stay away from exercise extremes such as marathon running because the damage incurred (to the joints, for example) and risk of injury are not worth the health benefits.
Blair also highlighted the benefits of exercise on the mind, referring to recent emerging evidence that activity delays the mind’s decline and is good for brain health overall.
Diet alone cannot make a person healthy. Appetite control is regulated in a complex way by the body, and is very difficult to fight against for any reasonable period of time. Should you be one of those people with a slow metabolism and a hearty appetite, make sure you put extra time and effort into exercising.
Obviously, since this was presented at an APA function there was a role in all this for psychologists.
“I believe psychologists can help develop better lifestyle change interventions to help people be more active via the Internet and other technological methods.”