Only a generation ago, physical activity was an integral component of daily life. Today, physical inactivity is becoming the norm. Our lives and most jobs involve long periods of inactivity, spent watching television, sitting as an athletic spectator, overeating, sitting at a computer, or utilizing any number of other activity-reducing machines and transportation devices. The same technology that has revolutionized the workplace, our homes and other facets of our lives, is also contributing to a sedentary, obese population by removing physical activity from our daily lives ” a trend that is increasing not only in America, but also globally. Physical inactivity is known to be a risk factor for all-cause mortality. Many medical professionals worry that today’s children may experience a shorter lifespan than their parents ” a direct result of emotional and physical weakness resulting from dropping out of sport and play at a young age, leading to a sedentary, disease-inducing lifestyle. Today’s job market is competitive and stressful. To achieve personal and career success, emotional and physical resilience is essential. The reality is that humans are biological entities ” little different physiologically from other animals. Without active movement, body tissues ” including the brain ” deteriorate and disease can take hold quickly.
Responding to this growing concern, on 23-24 February 2015, some 240 experts and other interested individuals gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. for the 2015 NPAP Congress. Among those present were organizational partners, community leaders, urban planners, health economists, educators, media, policy-makers, public health professionals, distinguished researchers, and state liaisons. This diverse group of experts and key stakeholders represented many important community sectors, and actively engaged in presenting state-of-the-art evidence-based research and opinions with the goal of reviewing and suggesting revisions to update the existing National Physical Activity Plan.
The NPAP vision is that, one day, all Americans will be physically active and will live, work and play in environments that facilitate regular physical activity. The National Physical Activity Plan Alliance is a not-for-profit organization that is committed to ensuring the long-term success of the NPAP. The Alliance is a coalition of major national organizations partnered together with the common goal to ensure that efforts to promote physical activity in the American population will be guided by a comprehensive, evidence-based strategic plan. A Board of Directors governs the Alliance. In 2010, a NPAP was released outlining a set of policies, programs and initiatives that set directions to achieve the vision. Considerable progress has been achieved in the first five years ” but much more work remains.
The NPAP is the product of a private/public collaborative venture involving hundreds of organizations that are working together to change our communities in ways that will enable every American to be physically active. It is hoped that a national culture will be created that supports physically active lifestyles that will lead to improved health, prevention of disease and disability, and enhance quality of life for everyone regardless of circumstance.
The NPAP is a “living document” comprised of recommendations from nine societal sectors: business and industry; education; health care; mass media; parks, recreation, fitness and sport; public health; transportation; land use and community design; volunteer and nonprofit; and faith-based settings. As stated in the NPAP, the cross-sector, overarching synergistic strategies that emerged from the Plan’s coordinating committee and working groups include:
- Launch a grassroots advocacy effort to mobilize public support for strategies and tactics included in the NPAP.
- Mount a national physical activity education program to educate Americans about effective behavioral strategies for increasing physical activity. Integrate the program’s design with other national health promotion and disease prevention education campaigns.
- Disseminate best practice physical activity models, programs, and policies to the widest extent practicable to ensure Americans can access strategies that will enable them to meet federal physical activity guidelines.
- Create a national resource center to disseminate effective tools for promoting of physical activity.
- Establish a center for physical activity policy development and research across all sectors of the NPAP.
Tactics, objectives, metrics and action steps have been created by each of the nine sectors to achieve the objectives of these guiding strategies.
Congress attendees experienced keynote speakers, plenary sessions, regular sessions and posters with experts in the field. Discussions focused on initiatives related to the strategies in the NPAP; creating input that will influence the next edition of an updated and prioritized NPAP targeted to be released in later this year.
Interesting discussions occurred on the differences between physical education and physical activity, and concerns about the removal from K-12 and post-secondary education of compulsory education and activity for our students. It was clear that students registered in educational institutions that incorporated mandatory physical education and activity in their curriculum achieved greater employment success. Other interesting discussions focused around the use of wearable technology and apps, including mobile technology logging daily personal activity, the importance of public-private partnerships, case studies, land use, community development, advocacy, transportation, human energy imbalance, the disabled, and novel strategies for promoting physical activity. The author of World Bytes presented the results of his applied research on the correlation between aerobic (lung) status and performance in marathons and triathlons.
Near the end of the Congress, NPAP Champions Awards were presented to groups and programs exemplifying the principles of the NPAP.
- Space to Grow is an innovative program with the goal to transform Chicago’s underused and outdated schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students, communities and the environment.
- Get Fit Kauai is the Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition of Kauai County, Hawaii. The group has promoted physical activity through policy change, programs and projects, and led successful advocacy efforts for three major policy changes, including a Streets resolution, a statewide Safe Routes to School Bill, and a county ordinance change to the subdivision code that requires sidewalks and shorter block lengths.
- Seguin Texas ISD Student Health Advisory Council focuses on utilizing and implementing strategies and tactics within the education sector of the NPAP, achieving a number of outcomes, including: campus walking trails for nine schools with improved connectivity to city parks, and a bond election that resulted in $88.3M in funding for new school and community improvements.
- The congress also recognized Dr. Kenneth E. Powell with its first-ever Honor Award for lifetime achievement. For more than 40 years, Dr. Powell has been a leading force in identifying physical inactivity as a public health issue and in advancing work and initiatives in public health and science.
Terrance Malkinson is a communications specialist, business analyst and futurist. He is an IEEE Senior Life Member and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Future Society. He is currently an international correspondent for IEEE-USA InSight, an associate editor for IEEE Canadian Review, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the IEEE Institute. The author is grateful to the staff and resources of the Reg Erhardt library at SAIT Polytechnic and the Haskayne Business Library of the University of Calgary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.