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Encouraging physical activity to promote, maintain health

The New Straits Times, April 7, 2002

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

THE latest issue of New Scientist (March 30) cited researchers in Seattle, Washington suggesting that fat people are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in car accidents. They analysed some 26,000 cases of car accidents and found that lighter victims experienced far less risk compared to their heavier counterparts.

Those weighing between 100 to 119 kg were almost two-and-half times as likely to die as those less than 60 kg in weight. (www.newscientist.com/news).

Why this is so is still unclear.

Given this new finding, concern about excessive weight gain should be heightened. World Health Day 2002 is celebrated today, with the theme Move for Health. It is meant to encourage physical activity to promote and maintain health. This also includes people with disabilities, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO explains physical activity as "any body movement that results in an expenditure of energy (burning calories)." It includes brisk walking, playing games, or even doing housework such as cleaning house, is one of the easiest ways to keep fit and is suitable for the majority of people. It promotes healthy growth in children and also develops self-confidence and builds self-esteem, both mentally and emotionally. For the adult, it is an aid to a healthy aging process and for sustaining a high quality of life.

The need for regular moderate physical activity is imperative as more people adopt a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle increases all causes of mortality. It substantially increases the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety, said WHO. Reportedly some two million deaths annually are caused by physical inactivity.

Easy as it may seem, physical activity is still not fully embraced in many countries. WHO documented that "in countries around the world, between 60 to 85 per cent of adults are simply not active enough to benefit their health." The reason for this can be rather complicated, implicating a number of factors.

One notably is attitude, the lack of awareness that an inactive body is prone to various disabilities; but this is not all. Often it is compounded by structural obstacles as well, such as the lack of suitable facilities like open spaces, parks, jogging or cycling tracks, or other sporting and recreational support.

Increasingly, safety and security factors are limiting the promotion of outdoor physical activities due to crime and violence. So too the presence of socio-economic degradation where poor services disrupt healthy physical activity. Topping all these is environmental pollution as it aggravates the quality of air and water, essential for healthy physical activities.

It is vital that these negative factors be dealt with effectively through proper planning, appropriate education and adequate financial assistance in order that health impact can be better promoted.

To promote the idea "move for health" , the recent report linking violence on television and aggression published in Science (NST, March 31) can be an important finding. 

The study, covering a period of over 25 years, indicated that television-related aggression emerged most strongly in boys during adolescence, but in girls during early adulthood. It also suggested that "at least during early adolescence, responsible parents should avoid permitting their children to watch more than one hour of television a day." 

This is an important call because in an increasing violent society, attempting to "move for health" is undoubtedly a difficult option. Indeed, physical fights and threats are hardly the type of activity we wish to promote. The researchers were quoted as saying that there are three to five violent acts per hour on prime time television and 20 to 25 violent acts in children's television programming in the US. (cbc.ca/news).

For the first time the study suggests a relationship between the amount of television adolescents watch and an increase in violent behaviour as adults. Reportedly the researchers from the University of Columbia and the New York State Psychiatric Institute claimed that adolescents and young adults who spend more than an hour a day watching television are more likely to show aggressiveness later in life. 

Moreover, spending time viewing television tends to turn one into a "couch potato" as a result of passive viewing compounded by the consumption of the unhealthy diet, "TV food." Undoubtedly this is yet another cause of obesity and excessive weight.

Today, therefore, is a good time to revisit our habits, be it dietary, TV viewing, or physical activeness, an important day to "move for health. "Otherwise, as suggested by the WHO preliminary data, sedentary lifestyle, or inactivity will continue to be one of the 10 leading global causes of death and disability.

Recommended site: www.who.int/world-health-day

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