America has gone over the 'fitness cliff'

Like the “fiscal cliff,” the “fitness cliff” has already come and gone—impacting millions of Americans. But unlike the fiscal cliff, which received an abundance of media attention and was eventually addressed by lawmakers, the fitness cliff occurs each year without any attention, much less a viable solution.

The term “fitness cliff,” as dubbed by Gold’s Gym, describes the date on which millions of well-intentioned people across the country with newly established ambitions of increased health and fitness for the New Year succumb to old habits of inactivity. This year’s fitness cliff occurred February 7th, placing millions of sedentary Americans, already exasperated and unable to enjoy the basic joys of life, at further risk for excess weight related illness, pains and chronic disease.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than half of adults in the United States meet their recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Furthermore, just one in four teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 get one hour of exercise a day, as recommended by the CDC. The inactivity of these subpopulations is significantly contributing to obesity in America. In fact, researchers at Harvard and INSEAD believe a key difference between obesity rates in rich and poor teens is not how much they eat but rather how much they exercise.

For too long we have ignored the root cause of so many of Americans’ health issues and have minimized the benefits of physical activity. Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on almost all facets of life including productivity, economic development, quality of life, physical and mental well-being, military readiness and retention, and academic performance. However, when family and community budgets get tight physical activity programs and initiatives are among the first to be cut despite their proven return on investment for public and personal health.

I call on Congress to overcome bipartisan gridlock, as they did to mitigate the ramifications of the fiscal cliff, and address the urgent need to make the healthy choice the easy choice by increasing access to physical activity and incentivize positive lifestyle choices. We as a nation cannot allow physical activity to be a partisan issue. We must look to legislation like the reauthorization of this Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Transportation and Defense as viable legislative vehicles to make physical activity a priority.  By ensuring that millions of Americans are more active we can begin to reverse dangerous health trends, ensure our economic stability, and national security. 

Goudeseune is the president and CEO of the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the largest non-profit fitness certification provider in the world. He is also president of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA), the nation’s leading cross-sectional alliance for promoting physical activity through policy and action.