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Walking the track is just the start

Walking the track is just the start

This past weekend, I had the pleasure and honor to represent the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) at the Coca-Cola Track Walk at Texas Motor Speedway after one of the NASCAR races. If you’re not familiar with this program, in essence, Coca-Cola rents the racetrack and encourages NASCAR fans to come out and walk around the track (the Texas track is 1.5 miles around).  Coke provides entertainment (and sometimes food) and they usually have a couple of the “Coke Drivers” show up and talk to the crowd (this past weekend the Coke drivers were Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte). These events are usually emceed by a radio-personality and ACSM has worked with Coke to provide an Exercise Professional at each event to talk to the crowd for a few seconds to stress the importance and benefits of walking. The track-walk program is usually held at 3-4 tracks every year and the overriding purpose of the event is to encourage activity (and of course, it serves as a marketing event for Coca-Cola).

In one sense, I’m pleased that a large industrial giant like Coke has taken notice of the ‘physical inactivity issue’ enough to sponsor these track-walks. Coke is certainly not the only large industry to play in this area; maybe the most noticeable is the NFL that sponsors the Play60 programs with their attendant commercials during most NFL games. However, it is distressing that it takes these large corporations to point out to us that we all need to be active. Where is society? Where are the parents? Believe me, I’m not complaining about any attention that is given to the physical inactivity problems we have in this country. I just wish they all would do more, because if they (and we) don’t do more, the general health of our country is going to suffer tremendously.

I’ve written a couple of previous blogs regarding the need for Americans to be active – but I’ve never put it this strongly before: inactivity is killing us all both health-wise and represents a danger to our country’s financial health.  According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, physical inactivity in combination with poor diet is the second actual cause of death in the United States. Yes, the SECOND leading cause of death (tobacco use is number one). In fact, the number of people that die from diseases and conditions arising from physical inactivity range from 250,000 – 400,000 per year, numbers that are more than the next seven actual causes of death COMBINED. These numbers are huge….but wait, that’s not all of the story.

In this day and time when every other news story is about economics, we should look at the cost of all of this inactivity. The best estimates we have come from Dave Chenoweth – he estimates that physical inactivity costs the U.S. Health Economy about $507 billion dollars per year. That is 507 BILLION dollars….. There was so much fuss over stimulus moneys a couple of years back that were in this range, but no one is talking about how much physical inactivity is costing us…and believe me, physical inactivity is costing us and will continue to cost us as our children get fatter and less active.

Am I glad that there are events like the Track-Walk program? Oh absolutely. But it is a shame that we are looking to a large corporation to take the lead on such an important issue when they make a product that many would cite as the source of many of our health problems. It is shameful that we’ve all lost sight of basic preventative measures that can and could mean so much to our country. Wake up America. We are fat for a reason – it’s great to watch sports, but we’ve got to get up off of the couch and get active, or we’ll slowly become those Weeble-people that can’t get off of the couch. 

Recently, the United Nations held only the second world summit on health and physical inactivity was specifically noted in the final resolution as a huge health problem for the whole world. But the next question is “So what?” If we know that inactivity is a problem, what are we going to do about it? My advice? Do anything – just get moving. Start your own track-walk program this week (or encourage others to do so)….Let’s get moving, while we still can.

PS: If you want to look up any of the numbers I quoted above, here are the citations (be warned that these files will not display appropriately using Firefox - so switch and use IE or Safari). Enjoy!

Mokdad, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association 2004 (2nd leading actual cause of death and number of deaths)

Booth, et al. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2000 (number of deaths)

Chenoweth and Leutznger, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2006(economic cost of inactivity)

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