As a society, the majority of us recognise the role which physical activity can play in improving and sustaining good health. However, while our understanding of the need to exercise and reduce our sedentary behaviour grows, the issues of accessibility and convenience become more prominent, too.
Easing the pressure on the NHS at a time when it’s under such intense strain is one of the key questions we need to solve, as a society. The bulk of the NHS and the healthcare system is taken up treating long-term conditions developed as a result of inequality and poor lifestyle behaviours – for example smoking, alcohol, or issues relating to diet or physical activity. These can all lead to health problems like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues.
In a lot of cases these conditions are reversible – in the majority of cases they’re preventable, but the challenge is how you do it.
This is where initiatives like Move More can make a contribution. Move More, launched in 2015 by the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine in Sheffield, is a programme which aims to make it easier for everyone in Sheffield to become physically active as part of everyday life. In particular, it wants to empower those who are least likely to participate in physical activity, enabling them to take back control of their own health and wellbeing and thereby reduce the risk of experiencing poor health as a result of leading sedentary lives.
In Sheffield, we’re essentially trying to re-engineer physical activity back into society, making it easy to move more, because if it’s not easy then most people won’t do it. It’s also more than making a solid argument as to why we should. Even though we think we’re driven by conscious choice, in reality we’re not. We make hundreds of decisions on a daily basis that are completely unconscious and are largely driven by our social and physical environment – and also what is important to us in the here and now.
We are not motivated by avoiding something 30 years in the future, it’s just too far away in terms of benefit. So, a key aim of Move More is bringing the benefits of things like physical activity much closer to home. This is why we have developed fun competitions in workplaces and schools and also designed an app to help people self-monitor their activity and gain virtual rewards by moving more. Ideally, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, but our message is any form of movement counts and some is better than nothing – find something you enjoy and invite others to join in with you. That’s a great way to keep it going.
People recognise that physical activity is good for health, but it’s not always easy to do – for example the physical infrastructure of most towns and cities makes it easier for us to drive a car than cycle around, and the perceived safety of some of our neighbourhoods doesn’t help people to walk or actively travel.
Therefore, we need to change the design of our spaces and places as well as championing the benefits of movement to individuals. It’s about making sure all these elements are connected and that all stakeholders who can influence physical activity recognise their role in doing so. Making changes across this ‘system’ of activity is the only way we are going to see a substantial shift in population movement such that we see a difference to the NHS and the social care system. More people, moving more often, made easy. That’s the Move More message.
Professor Robert Copeland is director of move more and National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine