In June I attended the Improving Health and Increasing Activity conference in London.
It gave me the opportunity to step back and consider the bigger picture: What does an active nation look like? What role does safeguarding adults in sport play in helping us work towards a more active nation?
The conference brought together professionals from health, transport, planning, sport, recreation and third sector charities. They came together to share insights and best practice as to how we might increase activity to improve the nation’s overall health.
The Big Picture: Inactivity and the Cost to the Nation
Jamie Blackshaw, National Lead for Physical Activity and Healthy Weight Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, set the scene by sharing the current research and statistics on the state of the health of the nation.
It’s widely recognised that activity promotes good physical, mental and social health and supports wider health benefits. What may not be so well known is:
- Physical inactivity costs the UK £7.4 billion per year.
- An inactive person spends 38% more days in hospital.
- Increased population-wide physical activity could enable individuals to work for longer, support reduced sickness absence, and improve educational outcomes.
- Physical activity can help prevent a number of serious physical and mental health conditions, with an associated economic value of £9.59 billion in 2017/18
Compared to pre-pandemic, levels of activity have dropped for women (down 1.7%) and men (down 2.2%).
So How Much Exercise Should We Be Doing?
According to the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines, each week adults should accumulate at least:
- 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking or cycling);
- OR 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, such as running;
- OR even shorter sessions of very vigorous intensity activity, such as sprinting or stair climbing;
Of course, adults might also aim for a combination of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity.
Activity levels generally decrease with age. According to Sport England’s 2020-2021 Active Lives Survey, the sharpest decrease comes after adults reach age 75.
Inactivity and the Impact on Health
Dr William Bird MRCGP MBE, CEO of Intelligent Health, shared the science that prove the positive impact an active lifestyle can have on a person’s level of resilience and stress levels.
For many people who are used to having an inactive or sedentary lifestyle, the shift to an active lifestyle has been strongly linked to reducing loneliness, poor health, and low mental wellbeing.
The first step is often the hardest. Some people face more barriers to engaging in physical activity than others. Common barriers might include a lack of time, choice, and access to activities; safety, transport and affordability; as well as certain cultural reasons. This is why a collaborative approach from all sectors is essential.
Social Prescribing Link Workers
Social prescribing and community-based support is part of the NHS Long-Term Plan’s commitment to a person-centred approach to care.
These Social prescribing link workers take a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They play a pivotal role in developing relationships with community groups such as sport and activity organisations. They support people to access community activities that promote health and wellbeing while tackling wider detriments to health, based on what matters to the person.
The aim is to have 4,500 Social Prescribers in place by 2023/24.
So What Role Does the Sport and Activity Sector Have in This?
The sport and activity sector covers a diverse range of activities, which are widely accessible to most.
Sport and activity organisations provide the facilities, expertise and means to enable people to engage in an active lifestyle within their local community. So in essence, there should be something for everyone.
Sport and activity sector organisations should reach out to social prescribing link workers, as well as the local community. They can become part of the solution to creative an active nation.
Safeguarding Adults – What Is Our Role?
Our role is to help create a culture where people belong – where they feel safe and valued.
These are key contributing factors that encourage people to engage and maintain a positive lifestyle activity.
We must prepare our clubs, coaches, volunteers and staff to be welcoming, and to understand differing backgrounds and needs.
We must create an environment where participants feel able to share their concerns. And we must be prepared to listen when they do share their concerns.
Also, we need to know when an adult needs extra support and how to signpost to the support services that are available.
In the long term, as more people engage in an active lifestyle it should reduce the pressure on the health system. It could also reduce the dependence on medical intervention for health and wellbeing conditions that are exaggerated by inactivity.
According the Pulse Survey 2022, just under 40% of GP consultations are related to mental health.
Good Practice – What Is Already Happening?
The Richmond Group of Charities is a coalition of health and care charities working in partnership with Mind, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK and Sport England.
People living with long-term health conditions often have complex and overlapping barriers to physical activity. These might include the nature of their conditions, as well as their motivation, confidence, and the facilities in their area.
The Richmond group has developed a resource pack for the sport and activity sector. It contains a summary of essential information about physical activity and long term health conditions. It also includes an outline of why it’s important for the sport and physical activity sector to engage with and support more people with long term health conditions to increase their physical activity.
Marcus Kingwell, CEO EMD UK, says Group Exercise Instructors are “healthcare’s secret weapon”. 6% of instructors are interested in working in social prescribing and 65% of instructors are interested in working with GP referrals. Some instructors are already delivering falls prevention, cardiac rehab, and stroke rehab programmes. Some instructors are already working with older adults, people with long-term health conditions, and those with diabetes.
For a further example of current good practice, see Royal College of General Practitioners and Sport England Active Practice Charter. This encourages:
- Reduction in sedentary behaviour in staff.
- Reduction in sedentary behaviour in patients.
- Increase in physical activity in staff.
- Increase in physical activity in patients.
- Partner with a local physical activity provider.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As next steps, the latest research and statistics suggests the following:
- Increase access to activity opportunities to reduce inactivity levels.
- Take a joined up, cross-sector approach to activate change.
- Share and replicate innovative projects and examples of good practice.
- Create a safe culture within sector to help make sport and activity more accessible for everyone.