Bringing the Physical Activity Guidelines to Life

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By Laurie Whitsel, PhD, Vice President of Policy Research and Translation at American Heart Association

Photo of Author Laurie WhitselThe American Heart Association was honored to support the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in November 2018 to release the 2nd edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (Guidelines) at our Scientific Sessions in Chicago. That was an exciting day. But now, the work is really beginning. Collectively, through collaboration, coordination, and transformational thinking, organizations like the American Heart Association need to bring the Guidelines to life. We need to meet people where they spend their time, help them move more, and transform environments to facilitate active living. And as physical activity and public health practitioners, we need to make the personal commitment to role model and live the recommendations every day.

The American Heart Association is dedicated to serve as a catalyst, convener and collaborator in this effort. As our association begins moving toward our 2030 strategic goal to improve healthy life expectancy, we will continue to prioritize increased physical activity and physical fitness as an important contribution to help reach that goal. Physical activity and physical fitness independently contribute to health and well-being, but also improve many other health factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, prediabetes, depression and anxiety. It is important for all Americans to ideally move with more intensity and duration to improve these health factors.

At the American Heart Association, we are committed to bringing the Guidelines to life. Here are some of the ways we are working with key partners to do that and we hope that our public health partners will make this a continuously expanding list as we all contribute to implementing the Guidelines:

  • Collaborate with major technology companies to integrate the Guidelines into apps, data platforms, and mobile technologies. These technologies can play a role in helping people track their movement and commit to regular physical activity, but it is critical that the algorithms that serve as the foundation for these apps and technologies are evidence-based and incorporate the Guidelines so people can trust the guidance they provide. There should be an emphasis on achieving the 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, 75 minutes of vigorous activity or some combination of both.
  • Collaborate with local, state, national and global coalitions and efforts and commit our advocacy resources to key initiatives. These include: increasing bike and pedestrian funding, improving physical activity and physical education in schools, promoting physical activity in early care and education, and increasing Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School funding and implementation.
  • Develop a road map for integrating physical activity prescription into payment systems and delivery of care with the Prescription for Activity Task Force. Implementation of this road map, assuring that physical activity assessment, prescription, and follow through is embedded within health care delivery, will require a significant collaborative effort with payers, providers, government agencies, and task force members. The American Heart Association will contribute to the research and evidence base that is necessary to demonstrate the efficacy of the prescription and its ability to lead to a sustained active lifestyle. We also want to help assure that the necessary measure development to integrate the prescription into the electronic health record and incentivize providers to assess for and prescribe physical activity. Right before the Guidelines were released in November, the American Heart Association invited more than 145,000 health professionals to assess their knowledge of the Guideline recommendations through an online survey. Among the 1,400 respondents, only 9% were able to correctly note the primary recommendation around 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week for adults. We need to increase this awareness and commit to tracking it over time. There is an important role for professional education and guideline translation. Accordingly, the American Heart Association has added the Guidelines to our Guideline-on-the-Go app, which translates the Guidelines recommendations for health care providers. It has already been downloaded 120,000 times by health professionals across the country.
  • Empower employers and corporate leadership to play a vital role in promoting physical activity within the workplace and advocate for physical activity prescription. Employers are the nexus between employees and their health care, community, and workplace. Through the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable leadership and Worksite Health Achievement Index we are promoting science-based and evidence-informed physical activity practices in a setting where many adults spend a majority of their time. The American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable, comprised of CEOs of many of the largest and most influential corporations in America, focuses on innovating new solutions for health in the workplace. The association’s Workplace Health Solutions, including the Workplace Health Achievement Index, offers a suite of science-based, evidence-informed tools and services to help employers build and maximize an effective workplace culture of health.
  • Use consistent measures for sedentary behavior, physical activity, and physical fitness assessment in workplace health screening. These measures have recently been described in a special issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. It is important for employers, vendors and stakeholders to adopt and implement these measures so the field can consistently evaluate how people are moving more throughout their day and develop culturally appropriate, individually-tailored, evidence-based programming.
  • Empower consumers to move more through evidence-based behavior change approaches. The American Heart Association’s consumer platform for healthy living, called Healthy for Good, uses evidence-based behavior change techniques to educate, motivate, and empower consumers to increase activity. The messaging is simple, positive, and action-oriented.
  • Increase opportunities for kids to PLAY 60. In addition to advocating for physical activity in schools and community environments, the American Heart Association collaborates with the NFL to reach teachers and students through virtual experiences, digital resources and a mobile app that makes physical activity engaging and fun. And, using a collective impact model, we are piloting ways to support communities in creating plans and solutions to increase opportunities for physical activity locally.

The Guidelines convey the tremendous health impact of physical activity on brain health, managing and reducing chronic disease, reducing depression and anxiety, weight management, reducing hypertension and many other benefits. It’s an exciting time to inspire a physically active nation.

The Department of Health and Human Services is appreciative of the dedication and enthusiasm of the American Heart Association team who helped support the launch of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition and their continued efforts to promote the Guidelines and incorporate the recommendations into their own work.

Spread the Word! Share this post with your network using this sample tweet: .@American_Heart is committed to bringing the @HHSPrevention #PAGuidelines to life! Check out some of the ways the association is working with key partners to promote #PhysicalActivity: https://bit.ly/2tc8WHx #HealthyforGood

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