Photo Credit: Jupiter Images
In grade school, there was perhaps no day I dreaded more than the day dedicated to Presidential Physical Fitness testing. For a self-consciously chubby, tall-yet-unathletic weakling like myself, my veins ran cold with dread from the moment I woke up and saw Ralph Macchio staring down at my from his Tiger Beat poster, practically taunting me. "You'll never be able to do a pull-up!" he screamed through that charming smile. "And your bangs are totally gonna fall when you get sweaty running The Mile."
He was right. I never was able to do the Bent Arm Hang –- not even for a full second -– and it took me something like 14 minutes to jog/walk The Mile. (This was years before I knew that some people purposefully seek out opportunities to run for 26.2 miles straight, before I would crave Kelly Ripa’s arms with the ferocity of a long-hibernating bear sniffing out a steak.)
My weakness wasn’t due to obesity or a lack of physical activity -– there once was a time where parents could safely send their kids outside at 7 p.m. to play, with the only instructions being "Come home when it gets dark." But the fact is, I wasn't strong and I was a bit overweight. Twenty five years later, a disconcertingly higher number of kids are worse off than I was: Rates of childhood obesity have exploded, tripling in the past 30 years and threatening the health and quality of life of one-third of all American children. And a full one-third of American adults are obese.
That's why I'm so thrilled to hear about today's launch of the United States’ first National Physical Activity Plan. A collaboration between the CDC, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, YMCA and more, the Plan is essentially a roadmap of different policies created to help Americans boost their physical activity levels. The change, it is hoped, will come from revamping our work, home and social environments to make it easier to move around. Early childhood education settings for young children will be adapted to encourage more physical play; funding for parks, fitness and sports programs in areas of high need will be increased; attention will be paid to developing an ethnically and culturally diverse public health workforce.
The Plan comes on the heels of a number of important and innovative strategies designed to raise awareness and generate change about America's obesity problem, such as First Lady Michelle Obama's recently launched Let’s Move campaign and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution school lunch program. I think it's a brilliant public health movement: How can we expect people to move it they don't have access to playgrounds or bike paths, if they haven’t been educated about how many minutes a day they should be exercising, if they don't understand the language being used in advertising?
"This is a national initiative that goes well beyond just telling people to exercise. We are recommending policies, programs and initiatives that will change our communities in ways that enable all Americans to be physically active," Russell Pate, PhD, chair of the National Physical Activity Plan, said during today’s launch. "It's well established that physical activity brings manifold health benefits, but we need to change people’s behavior. The Plan provides a roadmap for change, addressing everything from the education of health professionals to zoning laws, school policies and workplace wellness programs."
Want to get involved?
This week, via a program called Get Active America! , you can work out for free at a participating local health club (visit here to find one)
Encourage your employer to sign up for Instant Recess, a workplace program which encourages 10-minute physical activity breaks.
Challenge yourself to the Presidential Fitness Test as an adult (it's far more attainable than you might think, and you can do it with a friend, a team or your family.)
Sign up here for National Physical Activity Plan updates.
What do you think of the National Physical Activity Plan? Chime in below.