In it for the long run: converting the inactive
When you take part in events such as triathlons, charity running events from the London Marathon to a local 5km, the Swimathon and sponsored walks, it is easy to get a false impression of the nation’s level of interest in sporting activities. As one of the crowd at these events it seems as if the world is full of like-minded enthusiasts all conscious of their BMIs (body mass index) and PBs (personal bests).
But the reality is almost half of the UK does not participate in any form of physical exercise. With just a year to go to the London Olympics motivating people to exercise still remains a huge cultural challenge. I’ve written before about how wonderful the Race for Life 5km events are for encouraging non-runners to lace up their trainers and get active — as well as fundraising for Cancer Research UK — but they will only motivate some.
And in the meantime the rates of obesity continue to rise, with predictions showing no let up. Many health professionals believe this trend could put a stop to the increasing life expectancy rates with others saying obesity, and its knock-on health implications, is the single most likely issue to cripple the delicate finances of the NHS.
Only this week news broke of a legal wrangle between a man and NHS North Staffordshire over his legitimacy for a gastric bypass operation. Chronically overweight — but not quite so much as to be automatically given the operation — he has type 2 Diabetes and is practically housebound.
There is clearly a massive job to be done in motivating exercise non-participators and, just as importantly, encouraging them to sustain it. The Futures Company, an insight, trends and research company whose clients include Sport England, The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation and The Amateur Swimming Association has drawn together research in this area to prompt debate among clients as well as central/local government and other organisations.
Inevitably there is a divide between the affluent and the less well-off so that participation in sport varies by region. For example in Greater London 30% of adults in the borough of Chelsea and Kensington do some form of sport compared with 15% in Barking and Dagenham. And the difference between the sexes is even more acute: young women leave school half as active as men.
It’s not that the message ‘exercise is good for you’ has failed to get across. People have heard it loud and clear, they just don’t act on it. Changing behaviours is an enormous task and the last government embarked on it with its Change4Life campaign. Despite initial worries that the Coalition would ditch it as part of its cuts programme this award-winning campaign has survived and its ‘nudge’ philosophy is in full swing this summer holidays with activity charts and stickers to encourage kids to be active and eat healthier.
Change4Life highlights all the little ways more activity can be incorporated into families’ lives. And this exercise by stealth is one of the issues raised by The Futures Company’s research as even a little bit of exercise can make a significant difference in reducing the risk of major chronic disease.
The barriers to activity it identified included: time constraints, perceived lack of ability, laziness, children, busy social life, dislike of the facilities, not being near facilities, feeling it will take too long, too expensive and that exercise is boring. Within this there are different layers to barriers to participation: the personal (lack of confidence, body conscious), lifestyle (having children, leaving school) and sport (no opportunity to play, facilities too far away).
So its arguments are that any policies to engage more of the public in exercise and activity must consider both the motivations and the barriers. And perhaps most importantly of all to get beyond the thinking that exercise means running, swimming, football and other traditional ‘sports’ but that gardening, walking, and even cleaning the house are all everyday activities that can make the difference between a sedentary life and an active one.Tagged in: activity, Change4Life, London Marathon, obesity, Race for Life, swimathon, The Futures Company
Recent Posts on Health
- Secondary Breast Cancer: Good news but feeling blue
- Life with Rett Syndrome: How other people view us
- Secondary breast cancer: The work life/cancer balance
- Life with Rett Syndrome: I am still searching and I won't stop
- Life with Rett Syndrome: It is so much more than the facts, the stats and the science
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter