Just 30 minutes of leisure activity each day can make a world of difference
IT’S a sad state of affairs when a client tells me they can’t fit 30 minutes of leisure activity into their routine at least five days per week. Yet a recent national survey of more than 16,000 Australians, published online by the International Journal of Obesity , shows that about 75 per cent of our adult population fails to meet even this minimum recommendation for physical activity.
The direct healthcare cost attributed to inactivity is estimated at $1.5 billion a year, based on annual health expenditures observed during the periods 2000 to 2004. The authors of the study argued that if inactivity accounts for 2.5 per cent of the total annual health expenditure, then the proportional investment by the federal Government in public health programs targeting low activity levels should be $200 million annually.
However, this is clearly not happening. When you consider the greater impact of indirect costs such as decreased productivity, required carers and secondary complications that dwarf the $1.5 billion in direct costs, the current level of investment to deal with this health issue becomes even more disproportionate. Failure to invest in public health programs may help to explain why, since 2001, healthcare costs have been growing at a significantly faster rate than the economy.
Nonetheless, inactivity is a multi-factorial issue, and as such, we need to recognise all the potential barriers preventing people from getting active in order to develop a successful public health campaign. Reasons for inactivity can generally be grouped into four categories:
Intrapersonal barriers — issues within the individual, such as beliefs and attitudes to activity, their health and physical limitations, and motivation.
Interpersonal barriers — relationships surrounding the individual, including commitments to family or work, lack of support from friends or family.
Environmental barriers — issues including lack of facilities such as shared pathways, inadequate lighting and safety.
Organisational barriers — hurdles to a specific activity such as required travel, cost, preparation time, or an inflexible schedule — for instance, a group exercise class.
The barriers that appear as the greater culprits will vary from person to person. However, while many of these barriers can be addressed, an environment that is not supportive of physical activity is an obstacle with too few alternative options. For instance, it’s a fact that most people would prefer to be active outdoors and in their local area, but a lack of shared walking and cycling pathways, adequate lighting, safety designs and features deters most from doing so.
Communities with active-living, friendly design considerations increase walking, and reduce car trips and overall housing costs. This has been observed in countries such as Denmark and Holland, where considerable space gets allocated for bicycle paths.
One such taskforce addressing the issue of both physical and social environment is the NSW Premier’s Council for Active Living (PCAL). It is soon to release its ‘‘ Why Active Living’’ resource (www.pcal.nsw.gov.au), outlining the key strategies to create a healthier and active environment.
Libby Darlison, chairperson for PCAL, says we ‘‘ have created an environment that makes it very convenient for people to be inactive, and subsequently develop unhealthy behaviours. The only way to combat this is to make it equally convenient for people to become active, and moreover, easier for them to inherit a better quality of life’’.
Whilst it can be argued that each of us must accept responsibility for our lifestyle, there is no disputing that our environment is a major influence on our behaviours — and this is a responsibility that must be acknowledged and addressed by state and federal governments. Chris Tzar is an exercise physiologist and director of the Lifestyle Clinic, Faculty of Medicine, University of NSW