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Researchers say innovation needed to address inactivity epidemic

Researchers say innovation needed to address inactivity epidemic
August 7, 2017

Despite growing awareness about the importance of exercise and a range of national and local activity promotion campaigns, almost 60% of Australian adults are still not doing enough physical activity.

A new study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, comparing National Health Survey data over 20 years, found that Australians' activity levels have remained static since 1989.

The trend of inactivity was greatest among women, who increasingly are not meeting the guidelines of 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day.

Lead researcher, Dr Josephine Chau of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, said the findings could be interpreted in two ways, advising "when I first saw the data I thought it was a bit disappointing.

"I was hoping it would show more of an upward trend of people being physically active. But maybe this is good because we're working against the current of an obesegenic environment. We're achieving something but the power of the things that are driving us to be inactive is stronger."

The epidemic of physical inactivity (different to sedentary behaviour, which is specifically too much sitting), is the fourth highest contributor to the total burden of disease and injury in Australia and costs us in excess of $53 billion a year.

Dr Chau and her co-authors sat that a solution to the problem lies in a nationally coordinated action plan for physical activity.

She sees that while individual responsibility "is important", Governments and health promotion agencies need to make activity easier for people on a daily basis.

Dr Chau adds "I think right now inactive and sedentary choices are the default and it will take coordinated efforts to change things and nudge people towards activity as the easier choice

For instance, she explains that it is that it's often easier (and safer) for people to drive to and from work than walk or ride a bike. With urban design and transport options to the set up of our offices and work days, exercise is not the easy option, particularly for those who have to travel a long way to and from work, work long hours and have family commitments at home.

Dr Chau sees that more research is needed to understand why certain groups - like women, the elderly and married couples - are less likely to meet the guidelines, suggesting that different life stages and commitments may be to blame.

She continues "I think over the last 20-odd years, people know they need to be more active, but the reality is life gets in the way and we can't all be active during our work hours or if we're parents looking after children who have other needs."

Australia has adopted the World Health Organisation's Global Monitoring Framework, including the target of reducing physical inactivity by 10% by 2025.

According to Dr Chau, to meet this target, Australia needs a united approach that would involve the community as well as those who make decisions about urban planning, transport, environment and sustainability and education.

She concludes "promoting physical activity isn't just a health thing, even though there are health benefits.

"Until we get the whole of the country, national level thinking about the different ways we can be active beyond thinking about health and heart disease and diabetes - without thinking outside the box - it's going to be difficult to make headroads."

Click here to view the paper in the  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

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