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  • February 22, 2022

Physical Activity Needs & Implications - The Importance of Physical Activity

The Importance of Physical Activity

In light of the well-documented health risks of physical inactivity and excessive sedentary behavior, promoting regular physical exercise is a public health priority. The decades-long decline in physical activity seen throughout the U.S. has resulted in unprecedented increases in disease including a rising incidence of mental health issues. Therefore, it is essential to identify practical ways to engage all individuals in greater levels of physical exercise to improve individual, community, and population-level health.

Physical exercise is important for maintaining overall fitness, which includes healthy weight; building and maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and joints; promoting physiological well-being; reducing surgical risks; and strengthening the immune system. Increased physical exercise can also have a positive effect on mental health and self-esteem. 

Today, rates of overweight and obesity are dramatically higher than 30-40 years ago, and overweight and obesity continue to pose a major public health challenge.3Obese individuals are at increased risk of hypertension, dyslipidemia, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Higher body weights are also associated with increases in all-cause mortality, or premature death. Obese individuals may also suffer from social stigmatization and discrimination based on their body size. Regular physical activity can go a long way towards helping prevent these conditions, along with managing body weight.

Health Statistics, Inactivity, and the Future 

Despite the proven benefits of physical activity, only about 23% of adult Americans meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening. Additionally, mean body weight, Body Mass Index, and waist circumference, often associated with an increased risk for certain diseases, have increased over the past 18 years. Further, CDC data show that about 70% of adults over the age of 20 are overweight, with approximately 40% (93.3 million) classified as obese,6 up from 34% in 2007-08. If obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, by 2030 thirteen states could have adult obesity rates above 60%, 39 others above 50%, and all 50 states may be above 44%. Obesity could eventually contribute to more than 6 million cases of Type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 40,000 cases of cancer in the next two decades. In addition, the medical costs associated with obesity are estimated to triple by 2030 to $66 billion annually, and the loss in economic productivity could be as high as $580 billion annually. Although the medical cost of adult obesity is difficult to calculate, current estimates range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year with diabetes alone near $116 billion. The Surgeon General has indicated that if the obesity trend continues, we may see the first generation in recordable history that will be less healthy and live shorter lives than their parents.

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According to the American Heart Association, 121.5 million, or 48%, of adult Americans have cardiovascular disease (CVD), 45.6%, have been diagnosed with hypertension, nearly 14% have Type 2 diabetes, and 37.6% of the population have pre-diabetes. All of these figures have increased since the 2013 edition of this guidebook. Not only do each of these conditions present their own health concerns, but they also contribute to many other serious health issues including congestive heart failure, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and diabetes.

If the 2030 trajectories are accurate, the number of new cases of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension, and arthritis could double again by 2030. The estimated direct costs of CVD and stroke increased from $103.5 billion in 1996 to 1997 to $213.8 billion in 2014 to 2015. All of these diseases can be at least partially linked to a lack of regular exercise and poor dietary habits.

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