‘Agita mundo’ means move for health
by Dr. Maswoodur Rahman Prince

"A caution to everybody/ Consider the auk;/ Becoming extinct as/ he forgot to fly,/ and could only walk,/ Consider man who may/well become extinct./Because he forgot to walk ." – Ogden Nash

Man’s long journey from caves and jungles to a modern dot.com society is a tribute to our magnificent advances in science and technology. The conveniences of modern living have resulted in an all-embracing philosophy of mental and physical "take it easy-ism" – a trend that years ago helped lead to the decay and death of the all-powerful Roman Empire. Today, this philosophy is responsible for a decrease in physical fitness among people all over the world and for this reason non-communicable diseases have become major epidemic in most parts of the world. This is due in part, to a rapid transition in life style leading to reduced physical activities, changing diets, and increased tobacco use. This trend is present in all societies, rich and poor, developed and developing.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland addressing the 54th World Health Assembly said, "I propose that the theme for World Health Day 2002 (be) Fit for Health. This will give particular visibility to ways in which individuals and communities can influence their own health and well-being."

In most parts of the world today, non-communicable diseases have become a major epidemic. This is due in part to a rapid transition in lifestyles leading to reduced physical activities, changing diets and increased tobacco use.

This trend is present in all societies, rich and poor, developed and developing. A major cause of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity is lack of physical activity. The WHO estimates that lack of activity leads to more than 2 million deaths per year. It is likely that one-third of cancers can be prevented by maintaining a healthy diet, normal weight and physical activity throughout one’s life. A combination of improper diet, lack of physical activity and tobacco use are estimated to be the cause of up to 80 per cent of premature coronary heart disease.

In countries as diverse as China, Finland and the US, studies have shown that even relatively modest life style changes are sufficient to prevent the development of almost 60 per cent of type 2 diabetes cases.

To draw the attention of policy makers, the public health community and civil society to these issues, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organisation has announced that World Health Day 2002 will emphasise the importance of fitness and a healthy lifestyle. The need for, and the beneficial effects of, physical activity will be the theme of WHO activities worldwide. The WHO has chosen ‘Move for Health’ as the slogan for the World Health Day.

Agita Mundo–Move for Health, the slogan for World Health Day 2002, observed on April 7 every year throughout the world, is a call to individuals, communities and countries to associate action for health with the public health task of prevention. It sounds very simple and full of good common sense that cuts across economic, cultural, social and geographical barriers. There in lies the challenge of translating the powerful combination of scientific wisdom and good sense into policy and research priorities that assist people to live longer and healthier lives.

Now let us see what is this ‘physical activity’ and how one can move for health.

Physical activity is any body movement that results in an expenditure of energy (burning calories). It may be thus said, when you walk briskly, play, skate, clean house, dance, or climb stairs, you are moving for health.

Any amount of physical activity will make one feel better. However, the minimum amount of physical activity required for the prevention of disease is atleast 30 minutes of moderate activity every day.

Health scientists and physicians opine that exercise definitely confers many benefit. It conditions the heart run more efficiently. With exercise training, the basic heart rate falls. There is no doubt that regular physical activity promotes better health. People who exercise realise a number of health benefit with consistent effort, regular exercise may help –

(i) increase HDL levels (the good cholesterol)

(ii) lower triglyceride (blood fat) level

(iii) improve blood sugar (glucose) tolerance in persons with diabetes

(iv) controls one’s weight

(v) reduces high blood pressure in susceptible cases

(vi) improves one’s outlook on life and lessens feelings of anxiety or depression.

(vii) increases one’s awareness about own body

(viii) inspires one to make other beneficial lifestyle changes, such as quitting cigarette smoking, losing weight, or lowering high blood pressure.

The National Institute of Health of the United States of America defines physical activity as "bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure" and exercises as a planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness. Physical inactivity denotes a level of activity less than that needed to maintain good health. Physical fitness consists of three things: strength (the ability to carry, lift, push or pull a heavy load), flexibility (the ability to bend, stretch and twist), and endurance (the ability to maintain effort for an extended period of time). Endurance is the most important indicator of one’s general health as it reflects the efficiency of his heart and lungs.

Investigations in various countries has shown that physically fit men and women live longer than physically unfit people. The International Diabetes Federation estimates for 2000 for the South East Asian region showed that 5.3 per cent of the population aged 20-79 years had type 2 Diabetes (34.9 million). An aged population, lack of physical exercise and changing eating habits have been major contributing factors for the high prevalence of diabetes. Same is the case with Singapore, Malaysia and Pakistan. Traditionally populations in South and South-East Asian region have been rural-based agrarian workers and occupational physical activity levels have been high. Rapid socio-economic transition in this region has resulted in change of occupation from farming to formal industry based jobs and, therefore, occupational physical activities have declined. Regular occupational physical activities are declining in South and South-East Asian populations while non-occupational activity is very low. This change correlates well with the increasing incidence of coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity and other non-communicable diseases in this region.

Most non-communicable diseases are preventable. Individual and government action can save lives and livelihoods. Getting physically active is an important step in moving for health. However, physical inactivity is not merely the result of an individual’s lifestyle choices. The lack of access to safe open spaces, sports facilities and school playgrounds can make moving difficult, if not sometimes impossible. Moreover, people’s behaviour is influenced by insufficient knowledge about physical activity and its benefits. Government policies and programmes can have a great impact on peoples ability to influence their own health. In order to promote physical activity, a community should patronise and develop parks and open spaces, clean air and water, safe and attractive streets and a vibrant public life. Many cities and towns have demonstrated that more opportunities to move for health can be created. Riverside avenues in Paris, France are closed to cars during the summer for walkers, skaters, and bikers. In Bogota, Colombia, a city ordinance allows for the city’s main avenue to be closed to automobile traffic every Sunday. The local Red Cross organises free bicycles loaned to the public throughout the summer in Geneva, Switzerland.

Governments can initiate policies and programmes that create awareness about the health benefits of physical activity. They can work with various sectors and promote coordinating among them such as between the health and education ministries, youth and sports etc. Governments should consider physical activity requirements in urban planning by providing for parks, playgrounds and open spaces. Bicycle and walking paths separated from vehicular traffic should also be provided. The successful campaign in Sao Paulo – Agita Sao Paulo–shows how various organisations can collaborate in a big city for people to increase their everyday physical activity.

The main venue for WHD 2002 will be Sao Paulo, Brazil, highlighting the successful model of Agita Sao Paulo. Under this umbrella, numerous organisations have already been able to mobilise great numbers of both young and old "moving for their health." This model has also inspired the slogan for WHD 2002: "Agita Mundo – Move for Health". Cities, towns and municipalities are encouraged to join in this WHD movement towards healthy living by organising their own events.

Source: The Independent, Dhaka, April 7 & 8, 2002

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