By Cristina Roy, PT, DPT, NCS
Since the first official announcement by Ronald Reagan in 1983, each sitting United States President has celebrated the month of May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.
Led by a Presidential Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, the program raises awareness around issues of physical activity. It also provides recommendations on nutrition and strives to normalize healthy decision-making. Data tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined this program to be, on the whole, effective. Beginning in the early 2000s, research has shown an increase in adult and adolescent physical activity.
Creativity and the pandemic
This year, however, the program faces new challenges. The country is still recovering from a global pandemic. Economic uncertainty is the silent guest at most dinner tables. As a nation, we are re-evaluating how we spend our time and resources. To remain a motivating force for good, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month must face these issues head-on.
In a statement released by The White House in April of 2021, President Biden acknowledged the challenges Americans faced in maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the global pandemic. The President commended Americans for their ingenuity in staying active during quarantine. He paid homage to the living room and garage workouts that became part of so many people’s routines under lockdown.
Health and fitness inequity
The President also recognized the challenges faced by some communities and the inequity in access to nutrition, fitness, and sports programs. Last year, The National Youth Sports Strategy focused on youth activity and engagement, aiming to minimize the impact of socioeconomic barriers on activity and fitness for children, teens, and young adults.
This year, President Biden released a second statement on the nation’s fitness and health. The President admitted that, unfortunately, certain communities are still showing a decline in physical activity. “Socioeconomic disparities, including a lack of opportunities to participate in sports and fitness programs, have exacerbated the problem,” he says.
Last year’s efforts to reach the disadvantaged youth of America appears to have lagged behind the real barriers those Americans are facing.
The “Move Your Way” initiative
One proposed solution for the upcoming year is the “Move Your Way” initiative. With this initiative, many Americans can bypass issues with inaccessible equipment or facilities by committing to movement in any shape or form.
This initiative holds real promise. Prior research on non-traditional exercise, like dancing, shows leisure activities hold similar benefits to that of aerobic exercise. Less important is the type of movement; what matters is that you stay active.
Motivation and encouragement
A body at rest tends to stay at rest. Establishing healthy fitness habits is rarely easy without additional external motivation. Sharing activities with others in a group is a proven way to build community, improve motivation, and receive support from those with similar fitness goals.
To capitalize on the benefits of group motivation, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion suggests taking to social media with the hashtag #MoveInMay to share your progress and encourage others.
Many free resources exist for those to whom accessibility is a barrier to physical fitness. Nutrition.gov is an online tool created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture which provides video-guided exercise programs at no cost.
In this together
Starting a fitness routine may seem overwhelming. The purpose of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is to remind one another that no one needs to make the journey to good health alone.