Improving the Quality of Life

By O'Brien, Eric | Parks & Recreation, July 1996 | Go to article overview
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Improving the Quality of Life

O'Brien, Eric, Parks & Recreation

As the nation's attention turns to the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Atlanta, many Americans will marvel at the dedication, commitment, perseverance, and mental and physical fitness of the athletes. The more than 14,000 participants in both competitions will show the world how the human body and spirit can benefit from sports and activity. But, there is more to athletic competition than sports. These athletes are made strong--physically and mentally--by participating in healthy, active lifestyles. And although the athletes in Atlanta this summer represent a small portion of the world's population, the remaining majority should receive an important message from them.

In fact, the American public may be one of the nations most in need of hearing this message. According to national statistics, one out of every four teenagers is dangerously overweight. Among seven to 12-year-olds, 98% have at least one of the heart disease risk factors (obesity, hypertension and high blood cholesterol) and 54% have more than one of the factors. In addition, about 65% of all children between the ages of 10 and 18 cannot pass a minimum standard of fitness.

Fortunately, many of these health risks can be curbed, or eliminated, by moderate levels of physical activity and recreation. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a minimum of three days a week has a great impact upon preventable diseases and enhanced quality of life. But unfortunately, 54% of Americans are sedentary and only 24% exercise regularly, according to the U.S. Public Health Service. This inactivity is a major contributor to an increasing incidence of obesity, heart disease, hypertension and a host of other ailments that reduce the quality and quantity of life.

As concern for Americans' declining health grows, the U.S. Surgeon General will release a report on Physical Activity and Health written by the country's top exercise scientists under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The report, to be released this summer, is expected to motivate Americans in the same way that the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health did.

With over a quarter century dedicated to the improvement of quality of life, NRPA has an obvious role in the movement toward decreasing the risk of disease through activity. We are one of 10 national organizations funded through a grant by the Centers for Disease Control to promote physical activity and the messages of the Surgeon General's Report. More than 510 park and recreation departments are participating in this nationwide effort to expose those who are physically inactive to the fun and enjoyable aspects of physical recreation and park utilization.

Through our Active Living/Healthy Lifestyles campaign, we are promoting the move from inactivity to participation in moderate, enjoyable leisure activities. This type of transition is more attainable, and likely to be more enjoyable, than going from the couch to a rigorous workout schedule. To those nonOlympic athletes, a 30-minute walk in the park is far more appealing than a 20 minute run on a tread mill or stair climber, and the results are still tangible. Parks and recreation facilities offer an ideal setting for a number of enjoyable leisure activities. In addition, parks and recreation professionals hold a wealth of knowledge and skill in the areas of health, nutrition, and exercise. The combination is a natural one.

And the timing is perfect; we are perfectly positioned to sell Americans on the wisdom of incorporating physical activity into everyday life. The release of the Surgeon General's Report with the Olympic and Paralympic backdrops, attention will be focused as never before on the benefits of regular exercise. As parks and recreation professionals and citizen advocates, we need to take advantage of this golden opportunity to turn the spectators into participants.

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