Sofa in woods

There are so many things in life to feel guilty about and I strongly believe that exercise shouldn’t be one of them. A common answer when I ask a patient how much exercise they do, is, “Not as much as I should”. Getting some exercise seems to form part of a big list of targets we’re told we need to achieve in our daily lives; eat your five a day, drink lots of water, not too much sugar, fat, alcohol, get some screen free time, spend quality time with loved ones etc etc. We can end the day feeling like a failure and realistically, who manages this long list on a daily basis? This is why we need to fundamentally change the way we think about exercise and this involves every single one of us. 
Look at this infographic from Public Health England:
Public Health England adult activity levels
We can see from this that two thirds of men are meeting the recommended 150 minutes activity a week but only just over half of women, that’s a bit worrying isn’t it?  Now have a look at the stats for children:
Public Health England child activity levels
Only 21% of boys age 5-15 years are doing the recommended one hour of activity a day and only 16% of girls. This is quite simply frightening!
These guidelines are the amount of activity that is recommended for us to keep in good health. We know that inactivity is the 4th biggest cause of disease and disability in the UK and is costing the UK over £7 billion a year. That figure is only going to increase if we continue as we are.
So, clearly something has to change. Simply telling us to get some exercise is not going to work. There are too many things stopping us; time, money, dependants, lack of facilities to name a few. That’s where you come in.
Last year Public Health England (PHE) produced a framework called ‘Everybody active every day‘ to tackle these very issues. Click on the name to see the document, I’d encourage you to have a look. The aim is clear, we need to move more. The way we achieve this is by involving EVERYONE. We need to change the way we think about exercise on a cultural scale. It has to become normal, part of our everyday lives, just what we DO. It needs to be fun, affordable, accessible and all inclusive. We won’t carry on doing anything if we don’t enjoy it or have to make too much effort to do it. It’s not  just health care professionals that can make a difference. Teachers, the media, volunteers, town planners, receptionists, park wardens, the list is endless. Everyone has a role to play.
How land is used has a massive effect on the health of the community. Look at all those wasted spaces, uninspiring playgrounds, stairwells smelling of urine. With a bit of imagination think how simply making better use of these and making them more attractive would encourage us to use them. It’s not always about funding new initiatives and resources, why not just make the most of what we have? Small changes can have a big impact.
What’s important though is that we ask our community what they need. What suits an urban setting may not work in a rural one. An older population has different needs from a younger one. The solutions aren’t always expensive. Better toilet facilities and more benches to rest on may make a walk into town a possibility for a frail person.  Updating a tired playground can improve the health of the children that live near it. Communities know what would work best for them and they need to be involved for any changes to have a long-lasting effect.
We’re sitting more and more. I believe technology is to be embraced but a side effect is that we’ve become more sedentary. We can do most things from our arm chair. We can order food, book holidays and now even have face to face chats with out friends and family. Have a look at another infographic from PHE:
Public Health England sedentary time
This shows the percentage of people who spend 6 hours or more a day sitting. You might think it’s all down to desk jobs and some of it certainly is but look how it increases after the age most people have retired. This is a time in our lives when health problems often increase and activity becomes even more important for preventing and treating illness but with more free time, we’re sitting more.
Having seen the children’s activity levels above you won’t be surprised when I show you this:
Public Health England Child sedentary figures
Look how the sitting time increases at the weekends across all ages. We can’t blame schools for making them sit in class, they’re doing a great job keeping the weekday figures down.
Even if we’re doing 30 minutes of activity a day we still need to avoid long periods of time sitting to avoid the health problems that being sedentary brings.
We clearly need to take some action. Let’s stop thinking about exercise as purely sport and organised activities. We need to sneak that activity in without even realising we’re doing it. Stairs not lifts, cycling not taking the bus, walking meetings, family weekend games in the park. We might not have 30 minutes five times a week to go to an aerobics class but we do have to get to work, enjoy our leisure time and entertain our family. If we change how we do these every day things we don’t even need to think about ‘structured exercise’ and don’t have to add it to our endless ‘to do’ list.
It’s a lifestyle shift we need and a cultural change.  We all have to do our bit. The consequences if we don’t are rather bleak.
‘Everybody active every day’ was published a year ago and next week sees a further step in the vision. The launch of the Clinical Champions in Physical Activity programme. I’m really excited to have been appointed as one of the Champions in the North West and will be running educational sessions for Drs on this important topic.
Let’s celebrate the work done so far and crack on with the rest. There’s a lot more to do…….
everybody active everyday
With thanks to Public Health England for the infographics and statistics.
Featured image by Pixabay

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  1. Changing the perception of what exercise is can make a huge difference. Many people can think it’s what you do in a gym and one of my PT clients said she found it hard to fit it in alongside looking after her son so I suggested crawling, jumping, hopping as well as squatting – all exercises she can do at home with her son. I told her to think of exercise as playing and that seemed to help

    1. Maybe we shouldn’t call it exercise at all! It can put so many off. It’s just about movement, enjoying the capabilities of our bodies and having fun. Thanks for reading and commenting Steve

      1. Movement is good especially as all we want people to do is move more. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is whether it’s walking, running, jumping, crawling etc just do something and have fun with it. It’s a pleasure, have a great day 🙂

  2. It’s about changing culture. We need to start in schools, which is happening but has some way to go but it needs to include parents too. Ideal situation to do some joint ‘movement’ classes with parents and children. Stirling are doing a grade job getting kids active and making it part of their daily ritual. But as a teacher I have hit several barriers in schools down here mainly due to Governments focus on academic targets squeezing out time for DPA (daily physical activity). I have just set up a junior parkrun and get 100+ children aged 4-14 attending each Sunday many with parents choosing to run too. Initiatives like this will help but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Sadly being physically active is not made a priority in this country as much as others. Just look at the government cuts to sport and health. Currently lots of funding for 18-30 and 35-50 projects to undo the damage caused by lack of funding for early years and primary physical activity. I think it’s a big culture change needed.

    1. Absolutely. The park runs show that there is an appetite and are a fantastic sustainable way to get people active. As you rightly say we need to start young to change the future but there is however still so much to be gained for older adults too. Getting the inactive moving helps prevent and also treat disease so we need to work on all areas at the same time. Thanks so much for your comment. You’re making a massive difference to those youngster’s lives (and their parents) and I applaud you.

  3. The very word exercise is scary to many. As you say it is being active that counts. As with a lot of things (and as you say), it is a social problem. Society has to change as a whole. It is scary how many children can’t walk far and start moaning about it yet could probably run around playing games. It is all about how you view it and giving people the opportunity. Make it fun! I run a lot and would run to work but there is no shower at work. When I mention this everyone says what about your lap top but I think running to work would make me work more efficiently. I would leave it at work a couple of days each week. Win win! Great article. Very thought provoking.

    1. Thank you, yes, there’s lots to think about and the fact your colleagues just saw barriers to your running into work highlights the whole issue. If there was a shower and it just became a normal thing to do then the impact on you all could be massive. Go for it and ask for that shower!!

  4. Thank you for a great post, I learnt the consequences of a lack of activity five years ago when I suffered a Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack) at the age of 38. Whilst smoking and eating a poor diet were contributing factors to my heart disease, I believe that a lack of activity on a daily basis was the main factor. Life’s too short for regrets, but if I had to make a list not exercising would be right at the top.
    I am now recovered and a fit and active cyclist, so much so that in April next year I’m cycling London to Paris in under 24 hours for charity to raise awareness of heart disease.
    Your post has made me rethink so of my goals and aims for my own blog and twitter account, whilst raising awareness of heart disease is very important to me, we need to get the nation active – I don’t know how to answer that at the moment, but I am hoping my actions will be seen by others and will help them to become more active, I’ll be happy if I can save just one life from a lack of activity.
    I am happy to share my story, please let me know if I can help in way.

    1. Good for you! Your story is very powerful. The thing about physical activity is that if we can increase that then the other risk factors like obesity, blood sugar and smoking all reduce too. Yes, smoking too as people who become active are more likely to stop smoking. Makes sense that that is what we should focus on. However if we see it purely as risk reduction it’s easy to miss the fun and that’s the best bit! Best of luck with your challenge, that’s a tight time schedule but I’m sure you can do it!

  5. Fabulous post lovely! So true we sit and sit and sit. I am always trying to encourage my girls to do more walking, and cycle at the weekends with them or go swimming. Luckily they love to move, and I strongly believe that we as parents have to be doing so for the health of us and our kids. #FitnessTuesday

    1. You’re right, whole family activities are great. Not only do you get the fitness side of it but the time together, ‘team building’ and fun! You are a brilliant role model for your children. Good luck in that marathon x

  6. Being active makes such a difference in life. It makes it easier in so many ways. With my first pregnancy I was fit and healthy. I exercised before, during and after birth. It made my pregnancy smooth and almost trouble free. I am now pregnant for the second time and because of looking after the toddler I find it difficult to do yoga or pilates, something I did with my 1st. I can feel the lack of exercise gives me back pain and problems with circulation.
    The only exercise I’d get was taking my son to the park for an hour or two. I had to stop this a couple of weeks ago, as I am having problems with my sacroiliac joint, which causes a lot of pain and discomfort when walking and bending. I miss being active and find it hard not to be able to do things.
    I always thought that so many drugs could be avoided if people made changed their diet and activity levels.
    Being fit and able bodied is such a key aspect to leading a happy life. And less screen time brings families together.

    1. It’s so hard in this period of your life to keep active isn’t it? Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you can, and accept it might not be as much as you want. Every little bit you do does add up. Before long you’ll be pushing that pram with number 2 gazing at you and number 1 in tow! Good luck! Thanks for reading and commenting #brilliantblogposts

  7. I despair at the number of children that are driven to school nowadays. I wish more was done to help change this. It’s so important for health, habits, expectations. … yes, people are busy. Tell me about it! I have 3 kids and work. But that’s almost the point: you need to find ways to incorporate activity into busy days. Exercise shouldn’t always be an “add-on”. Great blog! 🙂 look forward to following.

    1. I agree Niki, ‘active travel’ is so important, but we really aren’t set up for it here. Most people could get their recommended activity quota simply by walking/cycling to work/school etc. So much needs to be done to improve infra-structure to be activity friendly. Things are happening but I guess a lot of it boils down to expense. Changing attitudes and using our imagination however is free so let’s start there! Thanks for following and commenting 🙂

      1. I think I’d have to write an entire blog on my rants about infrastructure and attitude…. 😉 in fact I might do… I’ll see… but there is (I think) some figure that I saw quoted somewhere about English (British?) children walking to school much less than in any other European country… I’ll investigate. It’s a shame… and partly, I think, because of worries about safety. I think so much has to change, but it would be worth it. Keep up the good work 🙂

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