One of the biggest challenges facing the fitness industry is how to encourage more people to get moving. A government-sponsored activity program from Brazil may offer helpful insights.

Dubbed Academia das Cidades—or City Academies—the program offers residents free access to fitness facilities, exercise classes and fitness professionals. The participants also receive dietary guidance. Since its inception in 2002, City Academies has expanded to thousands of cities nationwide.

The program attracted the attention of researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine, who wanted to understand its impact on participants. To do this, they surveyed households from 80 cities in the state of Pernambuco over 3 years. Nearly 10,000 participants answered questions about their familiarity with and participation in City Academies activities, and they also responded to questions via the International Physical Activity Questionnaire about their leisure-time physical activity.

The program seems to have been successful. According to the survey results, activity levels are higher in cities where City Academies is available. Women seem more likely to participate&mdahs;a data point that particularly interested the researchers.

“With the program, we found a large increase in the population’s activity levels, especially for women,” said researcher Eduardo Simoes, MD, chair of the MU department of health management and informatics. “Worldwide and in Brazil, multiple surveys show that men are more active than women, education is directly related to leisure-time physical activity, and individuals of low socioeconomic status are less likely to engage in physical activity. Our study shows that these exercise programs help reduce those inequalities in physical activity. They may serve as a model for other communities and countries around the world to tackle the pandemic of physical inactivity.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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