How Can We Create A Culture of Physical Activity Worldwide?

Written by Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LDN, Health Promotion Manager, IHRSA 

The title question was addressed during IHRSA’s first twitter chat last week. During the chat, we discussed some of the barriers that keep people from making exercise a regular habit, some of the things society is doing right –and wrong – to help create a more active culture, and how health clubs specifically could help make their communities more active. Overall great insights were shared, and a few themes emerged.

1. There are real challenges to becoming and staying active, but the cost of not doing so is too great to ignore.

Time is often the biggest challenge. Studies support this conclusion, finding that time is a major barrier to activity. Intimidation and lack of self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability –can also be a large barrier to exercise, especially in a gym setting. And while these challenges are real and difficult, the mental and physical costs of remaining – or becoming – inactive are too great for individuals or society to ignore. Check out our previous BAYW post on barriers to exercise. 

2. These challenges may be great, but we can overcome them.

In order for us to do so, images, marketing, and discussions around physical activity need to focus more on health and inclusivity and less on six pack abs. We need to meet people where they are and help them incorporate exercise into their daily life – by walking, climbing stairs, etc. This means creating a structural environment that is supportive of activity- meaning clean, level sidewalks; bike lanes; lit stairwells; and easy access to safe, convenient indoor and outdoor spaces to be active. Making activity a part of social and work life – building a support system – is also very important.

3. Society is getting a few things right when it comes to promoting activity, but we still have work to do.

Chat participants noticed a few things cities, towns, states, and workplaces are getting right, including more walkable and bikeable cities, celebration of real people’s success stories, and an increased recognition that exercise is about more than weight loss. Physical activity can benefit all aspects of health throughout the life span. Another key societal “win” is making exercise more inclusive and welcoming for all.

Despite this progress, we are still lacking in many areas, especially when it comes to our children. The need to educate young people, and bring physical education (PE) back to schools, was identified as an area in need of improvement. Today’s PE teaches the importance of physical activity, but ideally also the sheer joy of physical activity. Exercise should be a regular part of school, not an afterthought squeezed in a few times a week. The BAYW blog featured a post with tips on helping kids and teens get active at the beginning of the school year. 

4. Health clubs provide a real opportunity to make exercise fun, accessible, safe, and successful in the community.

Health clubs can – and are – reaching outside their four walls to make their members and communities more active. From fun runs and challenges to collaborations with businesses and government entities, clubs are providing a variety of options to help create that culture of activity in their communities.

If you’re interested in the full content of the Twitter Chat, check out our recap on Storify.