OPINION

Why the government needs to invest more money into exercise for vulnerable groups

Why the government needs to invest more money into exercise for vulnerable groups

The health benefits of exercise stretch far beyond simple fitness, and the federal government needs to take action as Australia's obesity and diabetes problem looms large in our future.

While we're dealing with a serious pandemic, the other health problems we faced before COVID-19 began aren't going away - if anything, they're getting worse.

Obesity and related complications are going to be an enormous burden on our health system going forward.

Making it easier and more affordable for people to learn how to exercise correctly will help that. It will also help with the country's mental health, resilience/immunity to disease and ease the burden on the health system.

Despite this, exercise physiology remains the only Medicare-recognised allied health service that has the GST applied, and that charge is hurting patients in need of care.

This cost burden hits senior Australians and those with chronic health conditions the hardest, as these are the ones that need professional exercise advice.

That makes no sense given obesity and fitness are our most pressing long-term health challenges.

On top of the pre-existing health challenges posed by the obesity crisis, evidence is mounting that it's having an impact on the way we cope with COVID-19 as well.

A study out of Southern California identified obesity as a major risk factor in men with COVID-19.

Our national fitness and health levels are likely to have only worsened during the recent months as many people have been confined to the home, so a long-term investment in exercise and lifestyle medicine is of paramount importance.

In the UK, the government is looking to create a new "golden age" of cycling, driven by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Australia could take such initiatives even further.

A general approach like the UK's is less effective than targeting those groups most at risk for whom appropriate support would do the most good.

The fact social sport and exercise have been so difficult to participate in during the isolation and lockdown periods means many of us have put on weight, as evidence by the "Quarantine 15" experience doing the rounds on social media, where many people have put on weight during their lockdown period.

But perhaps more worrying than the moderate weight gain is the habits we may have developed that will be hard to break out of.

The most dangerous habit of all is our continuing failure to address the country's long-standing battle with obesity and metabolic health.

David Beard is an exercise physiologist from Perth.