Like many Arizonans, I will be entranced by the Olympic Games and filled with admiration for the physical fitness of these athletes.
Few people attain the dream of being an Olympian, but we all have an inner athlete — a part of us that feels good when we are active; a part of us that knows food is really fuel for our bodies. Our inner Olympian comes in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is to find ways to be active that we enjoy.
Physical inactivity is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide. Plato said, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.”
We know there are many health benefits from physical activity — reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and improved mental health, to name just a few. Small changes make a difference. Studies show that people who are physically active just 21/2 hours each week and reduce their weight by 5 to 7 percent cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. Each of us knows we should be physically active, so why is it so hard?
This is a day and age in which we have unintentionally, yet effectively, engineered physical activity out of our daily routines. We sit during long commutes to the workplace, continue to sit at a desk all day, sit for the same long commute home and then continue to sit behind our television and computer screens when we get home. The routine is the same for our children.
So, it’s time to rethink our approach to physical activity and focus on our environment. That’s exactly what researchers and scientists around the world are doing. We need to change our physical-activity patterns as a society and reintegrate physical activity into our normal daily routine. That goes for our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods — every aspect of our lives.
There are many ways to do this. One is to rethink how we design communities so that the healthy choice of physical activity is the easy choice. This means providing better access to safe parks, as well as bike lanes and trails that enable walking or biking as a mode of transportation rather than simply recreation.
As we work on these community solutions, let’s be inspired by the Olympic Games to focus on active living for ourselves and our families.
Find opportunities to get active together. Be an Olympic family. It doesn’t have to cost a thing, and anyone can start today. Organize your own Olympics-inspired activities at your local park or your own backyard. Set up an obstacle course, or organize a basketball game or soccer match with friends.
Take advantage of your home and community pools to hold swimming races. Or simply walk in place as you watch the Olympic races. Find the Olympic athlete within you and start moving today. Check out the Aizona Department of Health Services’ Healthy Living website at azdhs.gov/healthyliving for more ideas on getting active.
Sheila Sjolander is assistant director of public-health prevention at the Arizona Department of Health Services.