For healthcare professionals only

Book Book

Perspectives on Health and Exercise

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 10 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1041
  1. Camillia Clark, clinical psychologist (camillia.clark{at}
  1. Calgary, Canada

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    Eds Jim McKenna, Chris Riddoch

    Palgrave Macmillan, £18, pp 291

    ISBN 0 333 78700 5

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    The obesity epidemic in Westernised countries is the main culprit of the alarming rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer. Healthcare providers and policy makers are charged with finding solutions to this growing (pun intended) health need. Physical inactivity is a leading cause of such chronic illnesses, yet researchers and health policy makers pay relatively little attention to improving physical activity. This neglect may partly arise from the perceived difficulties of increasing rates of exercise in a predominately sedentary population. It undoubtedly also arises from the intransigence of lifestyles and working habits in contemporary society. These require change not just at the individual level, but also at the environmental and societal levels.

    In their anthology, McKenna and Riddoch assert that physical activity is a “complex, multi-dimensional and infinitely variable behaviour” that defies explanation from a single discipline or perspective. To understand the effect and benefits of physical activity on health they present chapters on sociological, anthropological, physiological, psychological, and environmental perspectives, supporting the view that “no individual perspective can provide a comprehensive understanding of this complex field.”

    The book introduces frequently neglected perspectives such as the anthropological view evoking the evolutionary loss of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The environmental perspective questions whether our current environment isn't our greatest barrier to increased physical activity levels. Also included are epidemiological evidence of sedentary behaviour and its effect on health, the importance of addressing physical activity across the life span, measurement tools, and the many facets of physical activity promotion. The authors also include a critical perspective on issues such as the role of physical activity on depression and suicide, which has shown great promise as a non-pharmaceutical approach to mental health treatment and prevention.

    Overall, this book is a valuable contribution to the field of physical activity and health research. Its strength is the identification of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and promoting physical activity, which assumes an interplay between individuals, groups, and environments. Its weakness is that such cursory reviews of each perspective leave the reader stimulated and wanting to examine more fully the many unanswered questions and possibilities for change.

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