Bee FIT!, Boomers, Featured, Fitness — May 10, 2014 9:50 pm

Just the Facts…About the Benefits of Recreation Activities

I’m old enough to remember Sgt. Joe Friday from the old Dragnet television series and his signature response when questioning women during a police investigation.

“All we know are the facts, ma’am,” the always serious police detective would often say in his typical monotone elegance.

If Joe were still doing television police work today (and I’d love to see his Twitter feeds!), his startling facts about the massive cost and scope of health care in Kansas related to the obesity epidemic would probably sound something like this:

  • Researchers have estimated that, in Kansas, $1.327 billion in medical expenditures are attributed to obesity.
  • According to a 2011 study by the Kansas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 29.6% of Kansas adults (18 years and older) were obese. This amounts to approximately 636,000 adult Kansans.
  • That same 2011 study found that approximately 300,000 Kansas adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, angina or coronary heart disease.

Joe knew the facts don’t lie. The trend towards a sedentary lifestyle is recognized as a major contributor toward both the significant health and social issues in communities all across Kansas.

We’ve got serious, head-shaking health concerns that clearly need to be addressed. However, it’s not just isolated to citizens in the Sunflower State. Nationally, the scope of obesity is even worse.

Statistics published by the Center for Disease Control in Prevention reveal that one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese. Obesity-related illness treatments nation-wide cost an estimated $190.2 billion annually.

Those statistics clearly underscore why it would be inaccurate to simply label this a problem.

Obesity is a major crisis.

Researchers predict this startling health concern will grow, somewhat mirroring the expanding waistlines it impacts. It’s estimated that costs will dramatically soar to $549.5 billion by 2030, according to a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Businesses will also feel the impact, facing an approximate $4.3 billion in losses as a result of obesity-related absenteeism.

The challenging road that might carry us to a solution is not a mystery. Unlike many of the complex chronic diseases – some of which are linked to these same unhealthy lifestyles – the strategy for solving the obesity epidemic seems obvious to most medical experts.

A study published in May, 2012 – “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” – by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health group of the National Academy of Sciences, defines five obesity prevention actions that they believe can accelerate societal-level prevention, including:

  • Integrating physical activity into people’s daily lives
  • Making healthy food and beverage options available everywhere
  • Transforming marketing and messages about nutrition and activity
  • Making schools a gateway to healthy weights
  • Galvanizing employers and health care professionals to support healthy lifestyles

Simply stated, we must find a way to convince our friends, neighbors and family members – and certainly focus on our youth – who deal with issues related to being overweight to make a drastic change in their lifestyle habits and a commitment to active living and healthy eating.

That’s why I’m a strong proponent of the immense menu of program options made available in local communities by park and recreation agencies or, in many cases in Kansas, recreation commissions.

It’s a clear fact that one of the meaningful low-cost solutions to curing the obesity crises is at your local recreation agency.

Park and recreation agencies can have a major influence in the concept – as recommended in the IOM study – of “integrating physical activity into people’s daily lives.”

A report conducted by the American Recreation Coalition found that individuals who participate in organized recreational programs lay claim to a higher quality of life and better health.

Recreation resources, such as the diverse programs and facilities offered by Blue Valley Recreation Commission, can serve as a springboard to measurable improvements in healthy lifestyles and often encourage life-long fitness habits.

Your local recreation agency is where children, adults, seniors and, collectively, families can find affordable programs, guided by skilled professionals, and accessible facilities to enhance that much-needed commitment to healthy lifestyles. And adding to their appeal, recreation agencies present these opportunities in an environment that makes physical activity fun, safe and easily accessible.

The combined values gained by utilizing the local recreation services are almost endless and effectively act in tandem. Beyond the enhanced benefits of regular exercise, social bonds are improved when families recreate together. As an example, a recreation program directed at youth obesity can enhance self-esteem, build family bonds, and promote volunteerism, all at the same time.

In addition, brain research confirms that physical activity enhances the learning process in children. Recreational activities are powerful ways to refine children’s social, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.

I’ve read that on average, every hour you spend exercising increases your life expectancy by two hours. To put that in perspective, you can gain practically another day of life by investing 10 hours of exercise over the span of two weeks.

If you live in the Blue Valley area and you are not among the 86,000 people who annually enroll in programs the recreation agency has to offer, maybe you should consider finding something in their menu of options that’s appealing.

It could drastically change your life. And, as that wise old television police detective would acknowledge, that’s a fact!

Guest blog by Doug Vance, former executive director for the Kansas Recreation and Park Association (KRPA).

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