Fifteen years ago I had responsibility for the development of the Global Strategy on Diet and Physical Activity at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. At a time when most attention and funding for global health was focused on AIDS, malaria, hunger and maternal health, the very idea of talking about the benefits of physical activity was seen as a distraction from the real issues.
One person Victor Matsudo from Sao Paolo, Brazil kept stressing the value of mass based regular engagement in activity to address health risks and outcomes like obesity, heart health and diabetes; for building self-efficacy in children and marginalized communities; for restoring self-esteem, confidence and purpose in older people and those with disabilities. Working with an inspiring team, he started building Agita Sao Paolo. Over time, that work started mobilizing communities across his city, and then the whole country, to become more active. His gentle leadership drew others involved in similar efforts to work with him to globalize the ideas. WHO soon took note and assigned higher value to physical activity in its work.
Thanks to this groundswell, the WHO World Health Day 2002 theme was move for health or better said Agita Mundo. I joined the WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland at the core of the global celebrations held in Sao Paolo. For 3 days we traversed the city to observe and take part in some of the thousands of Agita activities hosted by schools, entertainers, sports clubs, old age homes and workplaces. Years later, that spirit of Agita persists and is increasingly built into urban design and the daily lives of people.
This years World Physical Activity Day, April 6 just a day before World Health Day is a chance for us to all recommit to the value of physical activity by increasing our own personal activity levels.
Now, with Vitality, I am embedded in a program that has built the means to reduce barriers for people to become more active, provides a range of incentives for people to become healthier and maintain those behaviors knowing that these materially improve the well-being of people over the long term.
Lets recreate that spirit of Agita today and everyday.
How are you celebrating World Physical Activity Day? What is your everyday “agita mundo” approach? Let us know on Twitter @VitalityInst or in comments below.