The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provided the nation with an airtight scientific case for why a person should make exercise a top priority. The case is unchallenged and polls show that the health benefits of exercise are generally acknowledged by an overwhelming majority of Americans. Nevertheless, research suggests that most Americans are not active enough to actually reap the benefits.
We are left, therefore, with one simple, maddening, urgent question:
“How do we compel more Americans to exercise regularly?”
We know there are real barriers to physical activity (injury/illness, unsafe environment, etc.), but other commonly cited barriers, such as “lack of time,” seem too often to simply be the consequence of low prioritization; conscious or subconscious choices to put-off exercise until a theoretical later date.
At IHRSA, one way we’ve attempted to address the question is with our I Lost it at the Club! program, an eight-week motivational weight loss program designed to help individuals keep their New Year’s resolutions and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle year-round. Currently in its 6th year, I Lost it at the Club! is set up as a competition among the participating health clubs. Last year, a total of 4,857 participants lost over 22,100 lbs.
Undoubtedly, much of the program’s success is due to the great passion and spirit of the participating clubs and their communities, but we think a critical component of the program is that it ties people to something bigger than themselves. It fosters camaraderie, holds people accountable to others, and celebrates accomplishments. Moreover, it recognizes that physical activity, like obesity, is contagious, and that social environments play a major role in our levels of physical activity.
The compelling power of camaraderie is certainly not a novel concept, but perhaps it has nevertheless been undervalued or underemphasized in the promotion of physical activity. It seems like the business community is beginning to incorporate the idea into workplace wellness programs, and social gatherings like running clubs have certainly flourished, but we’d like to see it spread deeper into society, embraced by families, friends, religious groups, book clubs, Facebook friends, etc.
We want us all to challenge those around us – the people we care about – to be more physically active.
We know there are several wonderful organizations with programs designed to bring people together for physical activity. We would love to hear from as many of you as possible. What are you doing and how has it worked?