Congress Can Be the Catalyst America Needs to Get Moving

Sitting. Sitting while watching TV. Sitting while at the computer. Sitting while at the drive-through. These are all things Americans do — a lot.

But sitting is costly. Studies show that all this sitting costs governments, societies, and ourselves.

Unfortunately, moving — exercising — is something relatively few of us seem to find time to do.

But exercising has benefits — important ones.

Research bears out that exercising on a regular basis improves societal health, can save the government money, and by increasing worker productivity and creativity, increases economic growth and prosperity.

Given that September is World Alzheimer’s Month, that more than 5 million Americans are already living with the disease, and that research suggests regular physical activity may help in the prevention of dementia, now is as good a time as any to urge Congress to move on a piece of legislation that would help get Americans moving.

The bill is called the Personal Health Investment Today Act. It’s a bipartisan piece of legislation that would make it easier for Americans and their families to afford exercise-related expenses by letting them use their flexible spending and health savings accounts for exercise equipment, health club memberships, fees for youth sports leagues and other exercise expenses.

Specifically, PHIT would allow individuals to use up to $1,000 from their pre-tax accounts and families up to $2,000 for exercise-related expenses.

Now is the time for Congress to pass this important piece of legislation — and Alzheimer’s disease is a key reason why.

Research suggests regular exercise may have a protective effect against developing dementia later in life.

A recent study, for example, found that older adults (60 years old and older) who get little or no exercise are at greater risk of developing dementia than their peers who are in the habit of getting at least moderate amounts of exercise — a 50 percent greater risk.

Curiously enough, it didn’t take mammoth amounts of exercise to see a difference.

Several other studies suggest the importance of exercise to brain health as well. At least one study tied moderately vigorous physical activity in midlife to lower odds of dementia later.

But alas, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show too many people aged 50 and older aren’t getting the exercise they need. Roughly 28 percent of them are inactive. That’s 31 million largely-sedentary Americans entering what are typically the most medically expensive years of their lives and when their risk of dementia increases.

Anyone who has had firsthand experience with Alzheimer’s knows the tremendous emotional and physical toll it takes on individuals and families.

But it comes with a financial price tag as well.

Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia now cost the U.S. economy $236 billion annually. And that doesn’t factor in the billions of hours in uncompensated time provided by millions of family and other caregivers each year.

So, Congress, shouldn’t we be maximizing exercise in the fight against this dreaded disease?

To drive that point home, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, along with other members of the PHIT Coalition, went to Capitol Hill — on World Alzheimer’s Day, in fact — to call on Members of Congress to pass PHIT and promote public policy to support Americans in their efforts to live physically active lives.

We hope our voices were heard.

As World Alzheimer’s Month draws to a close, and as the nation’s attention turns to other chronic diseases that can be prevented or better managed with regular physical activity, we urge our leaders on Capitol Hill to recognize the positive impact that PHIT and other exercise-promoting legislation can have on the lives of everyday Americans and their families.

Congress: You really can be the catalyst America needs to get moving. Passing PHIT is a great place to start.


Helen Durkin is executive vice president of public policy at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

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