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Physical activity: it’s not all about the World Cup

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The Australian public’s love affair with elite sport should not blind governments to the need to provide significantly greater support for physical activity across the community, the AMA has said.

In an upbeat message on prospects for the nation’s health, the Association reported evidence that people, young and old, appeared to be heeding advice to become more physically active.

But it warned much further work was needed to get more people active and realise the great health benefits and cost savings to be derived from having a physically active population.

The AMA’s Position Statement on Physical Activity 2014, released last week, cited evidence that more than half of adults took part in physical activity at least twice a week, and almost two-thirds reported being physically active at least once in the previous 12 months.

Meanwhile, each day there was a 69 per cent chance that any given child would undertake at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity. Altogether, 60 per cent of children take part in at least one organised sport.

Despite these promising signs, most adults continue to live predominantly sedentary lifestyles, meaning there was the chance to realise significant benefits from even a moderate increase in activity.

The Position Statement referred to estimates that a 10 per cent boost in participation in physical activity would save $258 million, with a third of this coming of the nation’s health bill.

Being physically active not only helps prevent and manage chronic diseases and debilitating conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and depression, but is vital to the cognitive and social development of children, the Position Statement said.

In recognition of these benefits, current national guidelines recommend adults undertake between two-and-a-half and five hours of moderate activity (or between 1.25 and 2.5 hours of vigorous activity) a week.

For infants, the guidelines underline the importance of floor-based play (and no television). For children aged one to five years, the recommendation is at least three hours a day (with no more than one hour of television or electronic media a day), and for children aged five to 12 years at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day.

The AMA said GPs had a role to play in encouraging patients to get and remain physically active, noting evidence that such interventions can increase physical activity levels in patients for up to six months.

But the effort cannot be left to medical practitioners alone, the Position Statement said.

“Governments also have a responsibility to ensure that all sections of the community have good access to safe physical activity opportunities,” it said, including by investing in infrastructure and urban plans that make it easy, safe, convenient and enjoyable to be physically active.

This involved the construction and maintenance of walking a cycling paths, parks and recreational facilities, and the promotion of activity through programs and education campaigns.

“Governments must extend their focus on support for elite athletes to support of more physical activity opportunities for all Australians,” the AMA said.

The Position Statement can be viewed at: position-statement/physical-activity-2014

Adrian Rollins