By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A coalition of health groups known as the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance on Wednesday released a roadmap of actions to support and encourage regular physical activity among all Americans.

“A century ago it was infectious diseases that were killing us,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Health John Dreyzehner, who spoke as part of the program surrounding the plan’s release. “But today our nation is suffering from an epidemic of chronic disease.”

Lurking behind the crisis, is a lack of physical activity, excessive caloric intake, tobacco use and other substance use disorders, he said.

Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the 1984 Olympic Games marathon in LA

Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the 1984 Olympic Games marathon in Los Angeles.

Focusing on prevention instead of treatment is crucial to getting Americans’ health back on track, Dreyzehner said, adding that physical activity is the best way to do that. It’s almost universally available and it’s a cost-free method.

“Physical activity is a healthy drug with healthy side effects,” said Dreyzehner. “If this were truly a drug, it would be a blockbuster.”

The new updated version of the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan builds upon the alliance’s previous guidance released in 2010, which included policies, programs and initiatives for physical activity in seven societal sectors  – business and industry; community recreation, fitness and parks; education; health care; mass media; public health; and transportation, land use and community design.

The latest plan added faith-based settings and the sport sector for a total of nine.

The entire activity plan maintains that physical activity levels are influenced by a wide variety of factors, such as where a person lives and the kinds of resources to which he or she has access. As such, it addresses ways to overcome rampant health disparities that can keep individuals from becoming active.

Eduardo Sanchez at National Physical Activity Plan

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez

“Context matters,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention. “We cannot achieve the goals we want to achieve unless we achieve them for all Americans.”

Sanchez pointed out that not only does actively partaking in physical activity promote overall health, but physical inactivity can cause hypertension, cardiovascular disease and even death.

Russell Pate, Ph.D, who chairs the alliance said the plan would be updated periodically.

He also said that it is not enough to simply create a plan, but that initiatives need to be put in place.

Pate advocated for greater financial investments in federal and state agencies. He also asked for a system to verify if the plan works.

Such investments are critical to continuing physical education programs in schools. A recent report found that only Oregon and the District of Columbia currently meet national physical education recommendations for elementary and middle school students.

Students from Whittier Education Campus in Washington, D.C., spoke Wednesday about the value of PE and encouraged attendees to play along to one of their favorite games.

A group of students from the Whittier Education Campus in Washington, DC explains to the crowd how to play one of their favorite PE games

A group of students from the Whittier Education Campus in Washington, D.C., explains to the crowd how to play one of their favorite PE games.