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:
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:
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:
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:
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…….
With thanks to Public Health England for the infographics and statistics.
Featured image by Pixabay