20 Million Britons are Inactive!
This alarming and frightening statistic comes from the British Heart Foundation and you might be wondering what makes it so alarming and frightening?
Well, it is alarming because despite recent increases and the efforts of Olympic and Commonwealth Games we are seeing huge sections of society being left in the starting blocks and it is seemingly costing the NHS £1.2billion each year.
Because being inactive (i.e. getting less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week) increases your chances of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes and even dementia. It increases the risk of strokes and, as we age, it makes us more likely to fall over and break bones.
So why are we so inactive?
If you ask the media, it is simply because we are all lazy and obese.
Now, I might be displaying some confirmation bias as a stereotypical “fat and fit” athlete, but we really do need to remember that inactivity is also an issue for those who are thin or even of normal weight and that my low resting heart rate, normal blood pressure and low cholesterol levels make me fitter than most of those who are much lighter than me, but also inactive.
Inactivity affects all of society, even if we do know that it is more prevalent in areas of multiple deprivations and amongst some of our ethnic groups. There are also more inactive women than men (another reason why that Telegraph image is flawed) and this is why campaigns such as #thisgirlcan are so important.
There are many reasons why 20 million people in the UK are inactive and experts including sports and exercise medicine lay advisers (that’s me, btw) highlight that it’s never one thing. That time, cost, the built environment and opposing and competing priorities prevent us from being as active as we would like to be.
Many of us work long hours and spend what feels almost as long travelling in cars and public transport to these places of work. Yes, we can get up and move more at regular intervals but when you chasing productivity targets, or chained to a headset or needing an immediate response, getting up and walking to the other side (or even another floor) of a large office to speak directly to a colleague (who might not even be there) isn’t an approach that we realistically consider.
There is also the small matter of the theory of Salutogenenis (great bedtime reading is my Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine post on the subject) which suggests that many of us have no desire to be more active, not because we are lazy, but because we have no hope and don’t believe that taking extra steps will make a difference to our lives.
In order to address this we need to look beyond physical activity promotions and consider how we improve people’s lives and give them a sense of belonging.
So, what can we do?
Well, for those working and living in Scotland, there is the fantastic eight week Paths for All Step Count Challenge 2017 which starts on May 1st.
Why is it so fantastic?
Well, I am possibly again showing my bias, but it was a Step Count Challenge that changed and saved my life. Walking more was the only real activity that I could do at 354lbs and given how it helped to transform me (read my amazing step count story in the British Medical Journal Blog), I remain a huge supporter of the benefits of walking and Paths For All.
But, what’s in it for you?
Walking more is a great way to increase your activity levels without putting too much pressure on your joints or your purse strings. It’s relatively accessible and registration for the Step Count Challenge 2017 costs only £5 (unless, of course, you belong to HASSRA Scotland when I’ll pay for it via my HASSRA Scotland Physical Activity Fund).
Joining a five person Step Count Teams is a great way to spend more time with friends and colleagues and the team element adds some gentle competition and accountability. We are more likely to get off the bus early if we know that our team needs our steps for the Step Count Challenge Table and that they might win us one of the many prizes available during the challenge.
It isn’t limited to walking. Cyclists and runners can also take part and have our miles converted to steps. Every form of active travel is encouraged and on the Step Count Challenge 2017 website you’ll find advise on how to walk more, route planning, group walks and even on how to make it fun.
On a personal note, I’ll be commuting on bike from the southside of Glasgow, if anyone ever wants to create a convoy into the city centre, but be warned, I don’t always take the most direct route and I am slow.
I take #makeyourdayharder to a whole new level.
The eight week duration is all part of a cunning plan. It is hoped that over eight weeks you will develop behavioural changes that you will continue far beyond the Step Count Challenge 2017 and that the habits of walking at lunch or walking to work will become your normal everyday activities.
And let’s not forget that it can help you lose pounds and save pounds. Each week I am saving £20 on bus fares and I’ve lost 10lbs in four weeks. I say “saving” but every penny I save is currently being spent on new cycling gear. You do also get to help save the planet by reducing emissions. And you get to spend more time in our beautiful dear green place.
For that is how we address inactivity. Not by launching glamorous and star studded events or by continuously lambasting the public for being inactive, lazy, obese and a drain on the nation’s finances, but by empowering and encouraging them to take steps to take more steps. By helping them to make positive changes to their daily lives.
Changes that will add years to their life and life to their years.