Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Why don’t we just move more?

By David Stalker, CEO of the not-for-profit health body, ukactive

There’s one single message that will help us tackle the inactivity crisis: Just do more than you’re currently doing.

Researchers are saying current exercise guidelines are unrealistic. In the British Medical Journal, they argue the ‘150-minutes of physical activity’ message needs to change. We need to see a greater emphasis on simply getting inactive people to move more.

Smoking kills – we know that. Inactivity kills – we now know that, too. Cambridge University released research last week, showing that twice as many deaths in Europe are caused by physical inactivity than obesity – if that’s not enough of an incentive to get up off the couch and go for a walk, we’re in deep trouble.

The evidence continues to mount on the impact inactivity is having. Although you may not know what technically qualifies someone as ‘obese’ (the BMI scale), everyone has an idea of what obesity looks like. It’s easy to look in the mirror and think, ‘I’m not overweight, what have I got to worry about?’ This has got to change. It’s time to think about the health of our hearts, not just the size of our waists.

The Cambridge study bolsters the ukactive’s ongoing work to underpin the fight against inactivity with a firm evidence base. It’s a welcome piece of work on the European population, but closer to home, the recent report Steps to Solving Inactivity showed the UK’s inactivity rates are among the worst in Europe, with around 30% of adults classed as inactive.

Is message is getting through?
When it comes to explaining how much physical activity is required, it feels complicated. The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines tell us adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week.

Research has shown even GPs struggle to recall the appropriate dosage of movement needed by their patients. For people who are completely inactive, just the thought of attaching measured requirements to exercise can fill them with dread. On the other hand, we need to know what we’re aiming for; and these guidelines have been judged by leading scientists as the minimum for good health, not the summit.

So what else can be done to get people off the couch? Here are my prescriptions:

  • More local authority funding for local physical activity schemes, such as Birmingham’s ‘Be Active’ initiative, where Birmingham City council and three local PCTs work together to increase physical activity in the area by providing free access to public leisure centres, green spaces and structured chronic disease management services. 
  • Greater focus on strong evaluation, providing evidence of what works and how this can be rolled out more widely. 
  • More action by the government to highlight the dangers of inactivity for health. We’ve done it for smoking, with billboards and posters to tackle the issue, so why not for inactivity? 
  • Get activity embedded in our DNA at a young age. Children are now doing less PE now than ever before. Organisations such as ‘Fit For Sport’ that work with schools to provide physical activity programmes are a great example of what can be done.

As individuals we need to ask: are we active enough? We all have a responsibility to take care of our own health. There is a school of thought that says if you’re sitting; stand, if you’re standing; walk, and if you’re walking; jog; if you’re jogging, start trying some box jumps!

Is it simply enough to tell yourself to ‘just do a bit more than you did yesterday?’ Looking at the inactivity figures in this country, I’m inclined to say ‘yes’. Your life depends on it.

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