Physical Activity for Health and Well-Being

This is an excerpt from Psychological Dynamics of Sport and Exercise-4th Edition by Diane L. Gill,Lavon WilliamsE & rin Reifsteck.

Lifestyle physical activity is increasingly promoted in the media, as well as in health and kinesiology resources. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) published Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008 and the updated Healthy People 2020 objectives in 2010. The focus of these guidelines and objectives is to improve Americans’ health, fitness, and quality of life through daily physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website also has a section that offers resources and information on physical activity.

Physical inactivity has been linked to nearly all major health problems, including increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and negative psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety (USDHHS, 2008), whereas regular physical activity is associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and obesity (Kesaniemi et al., 2001). Further benefits of an active lifestyle include improved physical function and independent living, as well as decreased likelihood of depression.

The interest in physical activity and health promotion is not limited to the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) includes physical activity as a public health priority, and the WHO website contains information on physical activity and health that parallels U.S. reports. Physical inactivity is a major health problem around the world, and WHO estimates that over 80 percent of the world’s adolescent population does not get enough physical activity to meet recommendations. Globally, adults in developed countries are the most likely to be inactive. Like the CDC, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and many governmental and professional organizations in North America, WHO promotes physical activity and offers recommendations for both individuals and public policies.

The USDHHS and ACSM recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week (or minimum of 150 minutes total per week), yet data from population-based surveys consistently show that the majority of the U.S. population is insufficiently active. Less than half of the U.S. population meets physical activity guidelines, and less than 20 percent meet recommendations for both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities, with higher rates of inactivity among those who are older, racial or ethnic minorities, female, less educated, overweight, or have a history of being physically inactive. Physical activity patterns of childhood and adolescence begin the lifetime patterns that promote health in adulthood, but unfortunately, the evidence indicates that activity declines in adolescence, particularly for girls (CDC, 2014).

Lox, Martin Ginis, and Petruzzello (2014) summarize the epidemiological data on physical activity patterns around the world as follows:

  • The number of people worldwide who exercise at even the minimal level to achieve physical benefits is low (conservatively estimated at 50 percent); at least 25 percent do not exercise at all.
  • Participation in physical activity declines linearly across the life span, and time spent in sedentary activities increases.
  • Males are more likely to engage in vigorous activity, although women engage in as much moderate physical activity as men.
  • Differences are small, but low-income groups and ethnic minority groups tend to participate in less physical activity than the overall population.
  • The higher the education level, the greater the participation in physical activity. Although not as strong, a similar relationship exists between income level and physical activity.


Moreover, 50 percent of adults who start to exercise in fitness programs drop out within six months, and as Buckworth, Dishman, O’Connor, and Tomporowski (2013) note, this high dropout rate has not changed over the last several decades.

Much of the interest in physical activity motivation stems from increasing public recognition of the health benefits of exercise coupled with the fact that most people do not act on that recognition. Given this global lack of physical activity participation, the ability to understand and apply sport and exercise psychology principles is important for professionals seeking to promote health-related physical activity programs.

Learn more about Psychological Dynamics of Sport and Exercise, Fourth Edition.

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