Expert: The end to sedentary lifestyles is in sight

July 15, 2010
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One of the great trends of our time, the descent into sedentary living, is about to undergo a reversal, predicts the executive director of Indiana University’s outdoor learning center. Bradford Woods’ John Koenig says the physical and social costs are becoming such a big problem that elected officials and businesses will both encourage and force changes.

The physical issues are well-documented—obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease. But Koenig notes that further research now suggests lack of exercise might even contribute to attention deficit disorder. In other words, there are consequences for the brain.

“More and more of our public officials are starting to take a look at this,” Koenig says. “We’re going to see a trend toward trying to improve this whole picture. It is having deleterious effects on children and adults.”

We didn’t become couch potatoes overnight, and the problems won’t be solved anytime soon, he says.

Several factors play into the problem. We work behind computers and play a lot of video games; weekends, particularly for harried single parents and two-career households, are earmarked for household tasks instead of outdoor activities. Parents and children park in front of televisions and eat junk food; parks aren’t close enough to be convenient; parents fear sending their kids outside to play; schools minimize physical education in order to hit academic benchmarks.

Even some sports aren’t particularly healthy. Baseball and softball, which mostly involve standing or sitting, are examples.

Koenig anticipates Congress funding some form of No Child Left Inside, the initiative to include environmental education as part of No Child Left Behind. Greater knowledge and understanding of nature might lure more Americans back to parks and hiking trails, reasons Koenig and other No Child Left Inside advocates.

Businesses, which are saddled with many of the health care costs resulting from sedentary lifestyles, also will increasingly push employees to get active, he adds.

Is Koenig right, that the sedentary trend is nearing an end?

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