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25 Mar 2015

25 MARCH 2015


**Check Against Delivery

Let’s (All) Get Physical

The AMA is committed to tackling rising rates of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour among Australians.

And we’re very pleased to support the Heart Foundation’s ‘Move More, Sit Less!’ physical activity campaign.

I work as an Emergency Physician and, only two days ago, I treated patients with serious injuries from falls, a young person having a heart attack, and another patient with uncontrolled diabetes. These are all examples of disease and injuries where regular physical activity can mitigate or even avert these problems in the first place.

When most of us think about physical activity, we think of it as part of the body’s energy balance equation, and its benefits are only considered in relation to obesity and weight loss.

But the benefits of physical activity extend much, much further.

Regular physical activity is known to reduce the risk of physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, some cancers and osteoporosis.

Physical activity has also been shown to improve mood.

Regular physical activity improves both short- and long- term psychosocial wellbeing by reducing feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

There is scientific evidence to suggest that physical activity can alleviate the symptoms of depression, and it may also be useful in the treatment of mild to moderate depressive disorder.

Physical activity may also provide additional benefits for those who are already suffering from chronic health conditions; it can decrease reliance on medications and increase life expectancy.

I think my own story is one of being an adult convert to more exercise in my daily life.

Over ten years ago, I complained about not having a car park at a new workplace, three kilometres from home. I took to a bicycle, and haven't looked back. I now regularly do a 100 kilometre ride most weeks, and am fitter and healthier than I was ten years ago.

If adults can change their habits for the better, then how much more important is it for our children. Infants and children can clearlybenefit from physical activity.

It can positively affect cognitive development, coordination, confidence and self-esteem. Group activities are important in helping children to socialise. We need to get back to levels of activity that children had less than a generation ago.

Increased physical activity and exercise is not just for the young and the healthy. There is a place for it throughout our lives, from the cradle to the grave.

Participation in physical activity by older people can improve bone health, reduce falls, and improve psychosocial wellbeing. This is important given Australia’s ageing population.

But these positives, these benefits of what really is a panacea for so many conditions, are not reflected in the activity levels of Australians.

Between 60 and 70 per cent of the Australian population is sedentary, or has low levels of physical activity.

And this comes at enormous cost to the burden of disease in Australia and around the world.

A lack of physical activity, or physical inactivity, has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.

Physical inactivity is the principal cause for approximately 21-25 per cent of breast and colon cancer disease burden, 27 per cent of diabetes, and 30 per cent of ischemic heart disease burden worldwide.

It has been suggested that increasing participation in physical activity by just 10 per cent would lead to opportunity cost savings of $258 million, with 37 per cent of those savings in the health sector.

Vigorous intensity physical activity, such as jogging, cycling or other aerobic exercise generally provides increased health benefits.

But before the couch potatoes among us go into hiding, physical activity does not have to mean extreme sport. Non-extreme, even gentle activities – bushwalking, dancing, gardening, yoga, sailing, kayaking, tai chi, golf, housework, and bowls – are just as beneficial.

There is even a role for increased activity as a part of palliative care.

And it is important to recognise that some of the biggest health gains are made by those individuals who transition from being sedentary to moderate amounts of physical activity.

Just walking for half an hour a day on five days a week may increase life expectancy by 1.5 to 3 years.

But the individual can only do so much. It’s not all down to motivation and willpower. Issues such as affordability, and a lack of access to the necessary infrastructure can and do prevent people from taking part in physical activity.

These are not excuses for non-participation. They are evidence that a lot of factors are at work in encouraging a healthy and active society.

That’s why the policy framework being launched today by the Heart Foundation is so important.

It identifies the barriers to, and opportunities for, increased physical activity and puts forward the actions to address them.

From health care settings to schools and workplaces, urban and planning, architecture, roads and transport, investment in research and evaluation, every level of government and every part of the community has a role to play in building a comprehensive and integrated model for an active and healthy society.

It’s the ultimate preventive measure and, as I’ve outlined above, any costs will be readily offset by genuine savings to the health system, as well as improvements in quality of life.

Within the medical profession, exercise and increased physical activity are important tools for resilience and mental health, given the demanding professional lives we lead.

The first step to realising these goals will be the active involvement and support of the Federal Government in developing a National Physical Activity Strategy, and I support the comments made here today by Minister Nash, Shadow Minister King, and Senator Di Natale.

The Heart Foundation has already done much of the groundwork for a strategy in its Blueprint for an Active Australia, copies of which are available here today.

I encourage everyone here today to take the time to take a detailed look through the Blueprint and to engage with their key audiences in developing a National Physical Activity Strategy.

This Blueprint is an opportunity for us all to set off on the path to a more active and healthier future.

The AMA regards our responsibilities in public health as an essential aspect of our work.

We have a long history of shared advocacy with the Heart Foundation, and we look forward to working with them and the Federal Government over the months ahead in ensuring this worthy goal becomes a reality for all Australians.


25 March 2015

CONTACT:        John Flannery                     02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761

                     Odette Visser                    02 6270 5412 / 0427 209 753


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Published: 25 Mar 2015