The practice of competitive sports is prevalent in France. The associated health benefits are becoming known.
A 2008 INSERM (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research) report report published under the guidance of the French Sport Ministry highlights the facts that engaging in regular, sufficiently intense physical activity is key to everyone’s health, and that the French do not exercise enough compared to their European neighbors. Communication campaigns promoting exercise fail to make people break their sedentary lifestyle habits. Serious public health, social and economic consequences are looming if nothing is done.
The Report Rationale
Popularizing and increasing the practice of a regular exercise has become a public health challenge. In this domain, compared to other countries, France is lagging. The objective of making regular, age-adapted exercise a staple of the French’s daily routine seems more fantasy than reality. How can this habit be profoundly and durably changed?
The physical activity is key to health.
What are the health benefits of physical exercise, and how can an entire population be motivated to engage in it more regularly?
Experts in sociology, epidemiology, physiology, biology, psychology and public health collaborated to assess the importance of sports in France, and to devise general recommendations. In their report, physical activity is thusly defined: “Any bodily movement produced by the skeletal muscles generating an increase in spent energy from the energy spent at rest” (INSERM, 2008, p. 149). It is therefore an observable and quantifiable behavior.
The French do not customarily engage in enough regular physical activity to maintain and improve their health. Canceling a physical education session, postponing a jogging appointment, making unachievable resolutions – they come up with all sorts of excuses to skirt the recommended weekly dose of exercise. To make this assertion, the INSERM report relies on the latest experimentations to encourage integrated strategies (e.g., on worksites), adapted interventions for at-risk populations (e.g., teenagers, retirees, people with chronic diseases), smart environment planning (e.g., urban planning designed to motivate residents to exercise) and promotional campaigns adapted to cultural specificities (e.g., customizing ads by adjusting the message to local traditions).
The authors cite a cohort study which showed that men who increased their level of physical activity to more than 2 hours and 30 minutes per week reduced their risk of mortality by 23%, compared to men who retained their sedentary lifestyle. Citing other results, the authors point out that exercising regularly at sufficient intensity reinforces organ structure and function and potentiates psychological processes. More specifically, heart function, muscle function, metabolism, bone tissue, vasodilation, the immune system, cognition, self-esteem, mood and well-being can be positively affected by the right dose of physical activity. The occurrence of diseases can be avoided or delayed. Life expectancy is increased, and ageing-well optimized.
Physical activity is beneficial at any age, provided one engages in it responsibly. The INSERM report recommends that adults engage in at least 30 minutes of medium-intensity physical activity (such as brisk-walking) per day, 5 days per week, or in at least 20 minutes of high-intensity physical activity 3 days a week. One may also combine high- and medium-intensity exercises to reach the minimum recommended levels. The experts add that “higher-level physical activity is complementary, or may constitute the next step in one’s progression to reach or exceed the minimum recommended levels”. Lastly, “performing resistance weight training (body building) twice a week is highly recommended” (INSERM, 2008, p. 647).
Physical activity is beneficial for all ages to the extent that it is practiced in a rational way.
What it means for Patients
In addition to the minimal dose (2.5 hours per week) of physical activity, the INSERM recommends alternating endurance (at least 20 minutes of sustained effort) and resistance (efforts designed to improve muscle strength) training exercises.
What it means for Healthcare Professionals
Regardless of age, resuming physical activity improves health and life expectancy. The regularity and progression of the physical effort are key factors.
What it means for Researchers
The benefits of physical activity programs on the health and life expectancy of specific populations should be assessed with randomized controlled trials.
What it means for Policymakers
Sports may be more than a mere purveyor of Olympic medals: it might prove a substantive and economical tool to improve the health of a general population. This approach would entail the redesign of urban spaces and novel physical activity concepts.
INSERM (2008). Activité physique: Contextes et effets sur la santé. Paris: Les éditions Inserm.
To reference this Blog en Sante © article.
Ninot G (2014). Sports and Health: putting words into acts. Blog en Sante, A30.
© Copyright 2014 Grégory Ninot. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Syl Billere for the English Revision.