National exercise plan adds churches, sports to targets

The National Physical Activity Plan, the blueprint West Virginia used to develop its own statewide physical activity plan four years ago, unveiled a new plan Wednesday focused on undoing decades of changes that have led to a decline in Americans’ physical health.

The plan, a comprehensive set of policies and programs that aim to increase physical activity among Americans, was first launched in 2010 as public-private partnership meant to encourage physical activity among Americans. Russell Pate, chairman of the chairman of the nonprofit National Physical Activity Plan Alliance, said the plan is a guide for states, businesses and agencies to help foster new trends toward more exercise and reverse societal norms that are causing people to become more sedentary.

“The call to action, in combination with the many activities the plan has generated, eventually, we think, will contribute to increasing the activity levels of the American people,” Pate said. “We have a lot of work to do; we’re about 50 years into a set of societal changes that have had the effect of almost eliminating the demand for physical activity, and that presents a lot of distractions and barriers to people being physically active.”

The plan was created in response to Americans’ increasingly sedentary lifestyles — fewer than 3 in 10 high school students get at least an hour of physical activity a day, and more than 28 percent of adults in West Virginia do not engage in any physical activity during their leisure time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inactivity increases a person’s risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers, according to the CDC.

Eloise Elliott, chair of the West Virginia Physical Activity Plan coordinating committee and professor in the West Virginia University College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, said West Virginia was one of the first two states to adopt a plan, and the state is currently working on a new plan it hopes to reveal this summer. The alliance plans to review the new national plan and make final changes to its own plan in the coming months, Elliott said.

“One of the things the national plan did was to call for all states to develop their own physical activity plans using the national plan as a blueprint ... that we could then adapt to our own culture and within the context of the state,” Elliott said. “It’s been really difficult in some ways ... with our state plan, we had a plan in place for implementation, dissemination and evaluation, but we’ve actually just gotten to the point where we feel like we can evaluate measurable outcomes.”

The 2016 nation plan includes nine sectors that the alliance hopes to focus on to improve exercise trends: health care, education, business and industry, community recreation, mass media, public health, transportation, faith-based settings and sport. According to Pate, the goals outlined in each of the plan’s sectors touch on the personal, family, institutional, community and policy factors that influence sustainable behavior change.

“Implicit in that organizational scheme is that there’s no magic bullet here,” Pate said. “We can’t just find one initiative that we could launch to solve the problem. The plan includes over 200 strategies and tactics organized under these nine sectors, and the unstated message is that, to achieve the goal that we have, we’re going to have to make a lot of changes in a lot of different elements in our society.”

Both faith-based settings and sports are new focuses for the plan this year, Pate said — the alliance hopes that their inclusion in the 2016 plan will encourage more adults to participate in organized sports for exercise, and will push more churches to cater to physical activity as part of their ministry. West Virginia’s new plan will also include more focus on faith-based groups, which have the potential of reaching a larger audience than if the plan were to focus chiefly on school and work, Elliott said. The state’s plan will also work to include more goals and initiatives centered on disabled residents, as well as ways of connecting state residents to the recreational opportunities that attract tourists to the state.

“We have a perfect outside environment to do all kinds of things, and sometimes it’s just a matter of helping people in our state realize their physical activity opportunities are right next door,” she said. “People drive to this state to do all kinds of things, but if you ask people who live in West Virginia, they’ve never done any of those things. We have to give people here the opportunity to do things like ski ... without it costing so much for them.”

To learn more about the National Physical Activity Plan, visit

Reach Lydia Nuzum at, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.

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