Sedentary behavior and exercise represent two ways of viewing the question of how much physical activity an individual gets, or should get, in a day. Modern lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary as we spend more time sitting in front of our computers and television sets, driving our cars, and playing video games. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), “Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week.” In the meantime, the evidence that physical activity can ward off chronic disease and restricted mobility continues to grow.
We believe the issue should be addressed in two parallel ways. First, research should continue into understanding how physical activity – or lack of it – affects our bodies. As we understand these mechanisms more fully, we will be able to target our activities in the ways that most positively affect health and quality of life. Second, we need to act on the large body of research that already exists. Both the scientific community and the public at large recognize the health benefits of more physical activity – but activity levels are not rising significantly. This disconnect creates a challenge beyond the confines of biological and biomedical research and places questions about how to increase the general physical activity of the population in the realms of psychology (especially motivation), public policy, and education. The breadth and quality of expertise represented by the Stanford faculty position us well to make a significant and lasting impact in this area.