We need to foster an exercise culture

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2009, 12:00am

How much exercise is enough? That is a pertinent question in Hong Kong, where work and study eat into our time, and dense development leaves us with little recreational open space. According to the Community Sports Committee of the Sports Commission, the minimum is at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity at least three days a week. Just 1? hours out of 168 hours a week does not seem much to ask. But a recent committee survey of 5,091 people found that more than half failed to meet this requirement.

Does it matter? That could be a life-or-death question. Research a few years ago by the University of Hong Kong found that a life of inactivity can be bracketed with smoking as a lethal health risk. This conclusion was based on interviews with the relatives of more than 24,000 people over 35 who died in 1998. It was found that the deaths of 6,500 could be linked to a lack of exercise. This translates into a contributing cause of death for one in four people.

Excuses given by survey respondents for not exercising enough included lack of spare time, tiredness and laziness. You would expect the worrying results to be reflected in underuse of public sports facilities. Ironically, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department says this is far from the case. The average use rate of its sports facilities is 80 per cent, rising to 90 per cent during peak hours. That is encouraging because it would seem to suggest that if the facilities are there, people will use them. Indeed, the survey revealed that jogging, badminton and swimming were the most popular activities, and people wanted the government to build more badminton courts, swimming pools and sports centres.

There are sound economic reasons why the government should live up to its slogan of listening to the people. Those who do not exercise enough risk health problems that add to the burden on hospitals and social services, and cause economic loss to the community. Our crowded streets and polluted air do not offer a friendly environment for exercise. There is a need therefore to foster an exercise culture with more sports facilities and green spaces.