Dr. Greg. Heath was invited to address the U.S. Congressional briefing on “Policy solutions to ensure lifelong access to physical activity and exercise:  Keys to good health and cost savings.”

Dr. Gregory Heath

Hosted by the American College of Sports Medicine in collaboration with the Congressional Fitness Caucus, the briefing was held for decision makers “so that they can be proactive in promoting legislation which translates into safe and effective promotion of physical activity, recreation, and sports for a lifetime,” said Heath, UTC Guerry Professor, Assistant Provost for Research and Engagement.

Heath’s presentation, made July 26 in the nation’s capital, was based on research included in a series on physical activity and health in the British medical journal, The Lancet.  He served as lead author of the paper.

“Because even moderate physical activity such as walking and cycling can have substantial health benefits, understanding strategies that can increase these behaviors in differ­ent regions and cultures has become a public health priority,” Heath explained.

Heath’s work in The Lancet has received international attention, including interviews on BBC and Al Jazeera radio.

For The Lancet series, the authors analyzed 100 reviews of clinical and community-based physical activity interventions published between 2001 and 2011 to identify a number of effective ways to promote exercise in people of different ages, social groups, and countries worldwide. Interventions include communication and information strategies, social and behavioral support initiatives, and modifications to environmental design and transportation policies.

Successful examples included promoting exercise and community events through mass media campaigns as well as decision prompts and signage to motivate people, for instance to use stairs instead of elevators.

Social support networks such as buddy systems and walking clubs were also important. Free exercise classes in public places such as parks that targeted populations who are less likely to manage recommended levels of activity, including women, those on lower incomes, and older adults were also found to be effective.

In children and adolescents, physical activity and fitness could be greatly increased through school-based strategies including physical education and after-school sports—already mandatory in many countries, according to the authors.

The scientists also recommend the creation of environments conducive to walking or biking—for instance, bike lanes and trails—and improved access to sport and recreational activities. Shaping policies for community and neighborhood design, land use—such as increasing green space—and improving public transport were also supported.

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