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NIH, Surgeon General launch Go4Life campaign at Capitol Hill briefing

January 23, 2012

Exercise and physical activity can help promote health and maintain independence, and this is as true for older people as it is for any age group. To encourage baby boomers—and their parents—to get active, the NIH on October 19 launched Go4Life®, a national exercise and physical activity campaign for people age 50 and older. The effort is led by the NIA, in concert with key initial partners from across NIH, HHS, and the private sector,

Senator Mark Udall

Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) describes the importance of exercise for older people at the Go4Life launch.

Go4Life was introduced during a Capitol Hill briefing on exercise and aging, which featured a presentation by NIA Director Dr. Richard Hodes on aging research and the health benefits of exercise. The presentations ended with a lively exercise activity, demonstrated by seniors attending the session, in keeping with the theme of the day. Senator Herb Kohl, D-WI, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Senator Mark Udall, D-CO, Senate Special Committee on Aging hosted the briefing. With regular activity, “the challenge is how to get started,” said Sen. Udall, a lifelong exerciser who includes daily workouts and mountain climbing in his regimen, “I look forward to being a partner in bringing fitness to older Americans,” he stated.

The Senator and other participants in the briefing expressed dismay at the low rates of physical activity and exercise in the U.S. population, including older people. Despite proven health benefits, only 30 percent of people aged 45–64 say they engage in regular leisure-time physical activity. This falls to 25 percent for those ages 65–74 and to 11 percent among people 85 and older.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin focused on the need to integrate health and wellness, not just the treatment of disease, into the U.S. health care model. A big part of that is physical activity and exercise. “This Administration’s National Prevention Strategy centers on a broad agenda to help Americans practice active living,” she said. “Go4Life is a new tool to help make being healthy easy and fun for older people.”

Speakers at the Go4Life event included (left to right): Colin Milner, International Council on Active Aging; Jim Whitehead, American College of Sports Medicine; U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin; Dr. Chhanda Dutta, NIA Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology; Dr. Richard Hodes, NIA Director; Robert Hornyak, Administration on Aging.

Dr. Hodes cited specific benefits of exercise for aging and reducing the risk of a number of chronic diseases. Findings from the Diabetes Prevention Program, for example, demonstrate that exercise, for the oldest group of participants, actually proved more effective than medication in preventing development of type 2 diabetes among people at risk. His message: “You’re never too old to increase your level of physical activity. We want to reach out to older people who traditionally have not embraced exercise and show them how, even some with physical limitations, they may be able to exercise safely.”

To do that, Go4Life brings together evidence-based resources on health and aging with a variety of agencies and organizations working with older adults in communities. It creates a national Go4Life Team to encourage older Americans to make exercise and physical activity part of their everyday lives.

NIA convened some of the nation’s leading experts on aging, exercise and motivation to develop Go4Life. For more than 2 years, an NIA Task Force on Exercise and Physical Activity was involved in all aspects of the project, beginning with development of Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging, the core evidence-based resource for the campaign.

The center of Go4Life is an interactive website (www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life) with information for individuals, families and friends, organizations and health care professionals. It features specific exercises, success stories and free materials to motivate the growing numbers of older people to start exercising and keep going to improve their health and achieve a better quality of life.

Robert Hornyak, acting director of the Center for Policy, Planning and Evaluation of the Administration on Aging (AoA), said Go4Life activities and resources might be ideal for caregivers, whose needs are a focus of AoA programs. “We have more than a million caregivers over age 65 and their challenges are immense,” he noted, as caregivers sometimes neglect to take care of themselves as they support loved ones. AoA fosters an aging services network with low-cost, nonmedical services and support, and will be working closely with that network to inform these caregivers about Go4Life.

Such networking will be key to the success of the campaign, and initial efforts to reach out to other organizations have been met with a welcome response. So far, 11 federal agencies, including 6 NIH institutes and centers—NCCAM, NHLBI, NIAMS, NIDDK, NIMH and NINDS—are initial Go4Life Team members, along with 29 private and nonprofit organizations. The full list of current Go4Life Team members can be found at www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life.

Trainer Sandy Magrath leads older volunteers

Trainer Sandy Magrath leads older volunteers and event attendees in exercises that can be done anytime anywhere.

Each participating organization will promote Go4Life activities by distributing messages and materials to their members, employees or customers and linking to the Go4Life website. Others also may print and distribute Go4Life materials to enhance print distribution to the older population and health care providers. Further, partners may directly sponsor events or community activities aimed at engaging older adults in exercise and physical activity as the campaign moves forward. Along with federal agencies, private-sector and nonprofit organizations participating include corporations, insurers, health care providers, nonprofit organizations, senior centers, fitness professionals, libraries and others.

Representatives from two organizations, who were part of the NIA Task Force, described their commitments to exercise and older people and to the new campaign. Jim Whitehead, executive vice president, American College of Sports Medicine, noted that the Task Force worked to bring organizations together to make Go4Life a success. Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging, pointed out that exercise and physical activity, promoted through efforts like Go4Life, present an opportunity to change people’s lives by making them stronger.

NIA is inviting additional federal agencies, as well as other public and private organizations whose interests and activities involve health, aging and exercise, to join the Go4Life campaign and will continue to reach out to potential partners.

For further information on the public and private support of the Go4Life initiative, visit www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life.

Page last updated: February 16, 2012