Advocating for Physical Activity: Why America's Health Depends on It

Advocating for Physical Activity: Why America's Health Depends on It
Posted on 11/09/2015

Recent headlines serve as a sharp reminder of why we must continue to call on Congress to make physical activity the easy choice for all Americans.

From the sobering study that found that Americans today need to work harder to keep weight off than their peers did 30 years ago -- even if they follow the identical diet and exercise practices they did in the 1980s, to the findings that low-weight, high-repetition exercise can increase bone mineral density in adults, to the University of Vermont research showing that exercise can help reduce depression and protect against thoughts of suicide in bullied youth, the critical importance of physical activity to the wellbeing of all Americans is substantiated daily.

Yet only a fraction of all U.S. adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity -- a meager 20 percent. And the threat of obesity to our country's future continues to loom. The 2015 report "The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America" in fact revealed that more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.

Looking back, it's easy to see that since the 1980s our society has evolved to such an extent that it has become exceedingly difficult for the average individual to build exercise into daily life. For many Americans, our days are dictated by overflowing schedules, sedentary jobs, sedentary modes of transportation, and the lure of sedentary pastimes. Etching out the time, motivation and resources to include regular physical activity into our routine schedules -- after years of technological advancements engineering it out -- takes a great deal of effort and determination.

Recognizing what Americans are up against, the health club industry and others interested in the health and future of our nation have long been advocating for public policies and legislation that remove barriers to physically active lifestyles and even incentivize people to start moving again.
This month we made some progress. The Personal Health Investment Today Act (the PHIT Act) was introduced to the Senate.

The PHIT Act is an innovative piece of bipartisan legislation that was written to help create a national environment that makes it easier for Americans to make the choice to exercise -- and to stick to it. It supports individuals and families in their efforts to become more physically active by letting them pay for youth sports league fees, fitness equipment, exercise DVDs and health club memberships with money from pre-tax accounts, like health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

The progress may be incremental, but it is significant. After all, the PHIT Act (S.2218) acknowledges the preventive nature of physical activity. And its introduction signifies that members of Congress are recognizing that as a nation, we must change the way we live if America is to have a strong future. It also suggests that our politicians are realizing the significant sway the legislative decisions they make have on the direction our society takes in the way we live and prosper.

When Senators John Thune (R-SD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) introduced the PHIT Act to the Senate on October 29, they put the health of our nation above partisan differences. They also found common ground with their House colleagues--Representatives Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Ron Kind (D-WI) -- who had introduced the PHIT Act (H.R.1218) to the House back in March of this year and are now joined by an additional 39 House co-sponsors.

All told, our voices are being heard. And with this incremental success, we are reminded that the mere process of educating our leaders on Capitol Hill of the paramount importance that physical activity has to our nation's health and future is as important as the final goal of passing any individual piece of legislation.

Now, as we crescendo into the next campaign cycle, I urge all wellness advocates, business leaders, health care professionals, influencers, educators, and everyday citizens to continue to press Congress and the Administration to pass legislation and create public policies that help bring regular physical activity back to America. Unquestionably, it is one of the most important actions we can take to ensure a strong, healthy and vibrant future for our nation.