Richard Smith: Run for your life

Richard SmithWhat will you be doing on 6 April?  There is a high chance that you’ll spend much of the day sat in front of a computer, perhaps seeing patients at the same time. You’re also likely some time in the day to be in a car, bus, or train, consuming carbon.

Well, I urge you not only to exercise that day, which is World Physical Activity Day, but also to urge the organisation you work for to get everybody exercising, encourage everybody you know to exercise, record all the exercise you do on a website, and send a message through the internet spreading the word at 10 am. Perhaps the internet will come crashing down and stop diverting us from exercise.

I’ve been encouraged to spread the word by my friend Victor Matsudo, a Brazilian physician scientist who founded Agita Mundo in 1996 to encourage the 80% of the people in the world who don’t exercise enough to get moving. Agita Mundo translates as “shake the world,” but I think you’ll agree that Agita Mundo sounds much sexier.

And Agita Mundo’s main strategy is fun. Victor never goes anywhere without a bag of balloons. When meetings get dull, as all meetings do at some point, Victor pulls out his balloons and gives one to everybody in the room. We blow up the balloons, filling them not only with out breath but also with our dreams. We throw our balloons up into the air, helping everybody else keep theirs in the air. Our dreams are flying, and we are hopping around the room. Eventually we burst the balloons, shaking ourselves out of our torpor and sometimes bringing the security people running.

But Agita Mundo, now a worldwide movement, recognises that fun and urging are not enough. You need to make social, environmental, and political changes. Agita Mundo works with employers, schools, health institutions, local authorities, and anybody who can make it easier for people to exercise.

The message to exercise for 30 minutes a day is carried on 15 000 buses in Sao Paulo, where Agita Mundo began. Companies have built walking paths. Walking trails have been launched by the government, and employees are given time to use them. Pavements have been improved.

So far on Agita Mundo’s website there are over 2504 exercise events registered for 6 April including over 5 million people from 22 countries and 4 continents. Create an event and register it on the Agita Mundo website, and I certainly hope that the BMJ staff will turn off their computers and exercise.