November 17, 2016
I reckon a lot of people underestimate me…or if not that, perhaps they simply don’t understand me…don’t know enough about my background to understand that I’m not just some Fat bird who runs marathons and belives she can help overweight women learn to love running too.
Let me explain.
I’ve not always been a blogger…oh no. I once had a proper job…one which required me to wear clothes that were ironed and get public transport into an office.
In fact I have had a range of jobs like that.
Mostly I have been a project manager in the cultural and sports sector, working for charities and local authorities on arts, volunteering or sporting programmes. I have worked for a pan london political agency on 2012 policy, I have managed artists who work in schools across the Thames Gateway to improve attainment and engagement in the education system, I have managed a multimillion pound sports programme for young people in 10 East London boroughs…so yes I have some skills and some understanding on how things work.
It wasn’t that I just woke up one day and said I know…I’m going to be a fitness blogger and see if I can pay my mortgage in new trainers and free trips to run half marathons across Europe…because that would be silly.
In 2013 after becoming a mother for the first time and not having a job to go back to after being made redundant from my London 2012 position, I realised that the things I was writing about plus size fitness and inactivity were resinating with people around the UK and further afield, I realised that despite the heaps of money that are thrown towards health improvements and getting people more active, there was still a huge way to go…and I had discovered a unique way of tackling some of this.
I am now almost 4 years into that journey, which is ironic on what is the start of Global Entrepreneurs Week, because sometimes I think it would be easier to go an get a job in a Fast Food Restaurant…although of course the sense of achievement and ability to transform the health of the nation in a positive way should not be ignored.
The point is this work is hard…especially when you are unfunded and don’t take the easy way out, like going into partnership with the folks who are causing some of these problems for example.
But anyway I digress.
This post is about the UKActive National Summit “Always Moving Forward” which I attended last week.
A massive conference in Westminister with 500 delegates from across the sport, health and physical activity industries, with keynotes from the good and great, including the chief executive of the NHS Simon Stevens and a riveting call to action by Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson…which brings me on to my first point.
As an audience we were pretty shit at being active
500 odd folks in smart clothes sitting on their backsides for 6ish hours, is that really leading by example.
Now I work as a proffesional keynote speaker on the topics of inactivity, obesity and setting big fat stupid goals in health, life and business, and when I deliver a speech one of my key objectives is to get people on their feet. This is for 3 reasons
- Its great for my ego!!
- Its great for getting remembered, referred and rebooked
- Its great for ensuring audience members don’t get a numb bum.
I watched a fantastic talk a few years ago from Dr William Bird (one of the speakers today…and my hero basically) about the scientific reasons for moving every 15-20 minutes, something to do with telomeres (Google It) and that stuck with me.
I counted on Wednesday there were 11 opportunities to give a standing ovation across the day, and not at one point did one seem on the cards, ever after Tanni’s call to action….which was most definitely worthy of one, or when Dame Sarah Stoney the UK’s most decorated Paralympian came to the stage…why did we not jump to our feet then?
We need to be careful that we don’t exclude office worker and professionals when it comes to the need for activity. I managed to squeeze in a CrossFit session at 6.30am before coming to the conference, otherwise it would have been a day of little activity and a conference lunch, and biscuits every 2 hours.
I so easily could have helped activate the conference, I even offered my services for FREE a few weeks prior, surely this is where innovation should have been showcased. Inactivity needs to be investigated at all levels, we can’t sit here on our high horses thinking this stuff is just about the Jeremy Kyle watchers on housing estates.
But what else?
The distinction between inactivity and obesity
When I heard CEO of UKActive Steven Ward say that we need to separate the link between obesity and inactivity and look at the benefits of increasing activity irrespective of weight loss, I nearly jumped out of my seat screaming Hallelujah in appreciation….I didn’t though, I already stood out in my pink Too Fat to Run tshirt in a sea of suits.
But I was very, very excited.
This is the stuff I talk about day in and day out, but hearing it so publicly from the stage was awesome, especially seeing as it was repeated a few times throughout the day too. It was refreshing not to see a single image of a headless fat person through the event too.
37K people die prematurely each year because of inactivity, meaning that 20 different lifestyle related diseases and conditions could be positively effected by increase activity, even if those participants never lost a single pound in weight.
Exercise as medicine is a concept we need to be sharing more widely…and bloggers are some of the best influencers to start getting that message out there.
Tanni asked the question
How can we build a more active nation
And she spoke about how we must empower people to make the right choices and support the NHS.
There is no one simple answer. We live in a culture of cure rather than prevention, 13% of the population go to see their GP every two weeks. Most people are happy to take an ever increasing cocktail of pills to combat their health problems, yet diet and exercise can be sooooo much more effective in improving health and quality of life.
Later on in the day NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens talked candidly about the extent of the problem, even within his own workforce. The NHS has 1.3 million staff, many of whom have their own battles around inactivity and weight gain…I should know as many of my clients work in healthcare.
An article a few years ago in the Telegraph written by Dr Phil Hammond asked
Why are so many NHS workers obese?
The article suggester it might seem hypocritical for health workers to dish out advice on weight loss and healthy lifestyles when they themselves seem so unhealthy. But said it might be because they are working so hard. According to a Royal College of Physicians estimate, 700,000 NHS employees are obese but where are the stats about how active they are…and better still some innovative solutions to address this?
Women tell me they like my online programmes because they fit around their shift patterns, and they feel like they are part of a community when it is so difficult for them to join a more traditional sports club.
Do we need to make more of these new fitness tribes?
Tanni talked about how exercise often forms part of our identity, and the rise of fitness tribes helps us somehow to feel connected to the activity and more likely to stick with it or return to it after a break. But people need help sometimes in finding their tribe? Especially if they have had a bad experience in the past or have a narrow view of what activities are on offer or count as activity
We don’t care how you move as long as you do said Steve Ward right at the start of the day and its true, there shouldn’t be a hierarchy of importance placed on certain types of exercise…you are not a better fitty because you go to the gym 3 times a week, a fitness DVD in your front room once a week, and running around after your kids at the park counts too.
There has been a sharp increase in socially driven fitness entrepreneurs and bloggers like myself who are doing things in their own unique way. These individuals have calved niche followings and some have found ways to monetise it too, (which proves demand) and maybe some of this should be reviewed in more detail around showcasing what works. I have hundreds of testimonials and anecdotal evidence about the impact of my work on the health and happiness of the women I work with but I don’t always have the capacity, or cashflow to scale up my interventions or have access to public money….but with the right support and partners this is possible.
UKActive is of course a membership organisation, so perhaps this next question is a little unfair…but where were the other influencers, where were the bloggers, the start ups…I am not a member of the organisation at this point as for me I can’t justify the annual membership fee at this point in my business growth, so when we talk about innovation, we have to remember who is able to be at the negotiating table and who is missing and why?
So is this all about money then?
Well kind of. I know I could reach tens of thousands more women around the UK if I had the funds to roll out my proposed coaching programme, and to improve the technology that drives my business…and I am sure a lot of other organisations could also do more work around the inactive agenda if they had more resources….though the question is what’s in it for them? For private companies sometimes profit is the bottom line, and if working towards increasing activity in our population is not profitable maybe theres not enough of an incentive is there for some.
Which moves me nicely onto the update from Sport England, delivered by the lovely Jennie Price.
Sport England are changing their priorities to reflect the growing issue with inactivity, taking in to consideration the whole behavioural change model and the need to find new and innovative ways to tackle the growing issue. The devil will be in the detail though and I am sure every sports organisation in the country will now be shouting from the roof tops that they have solutions to the inactivity crisis so they can access these funds.
It can be really frustrating for me to attend events like this where most of the delegates are from well established (and well funded) organisations, with staff teams, office space, marketing budgets and a track record. Doing it by yourself is not only lonely but its tough.
I haven’t earned a proper salary in 4 years and I sure as hell won’t be going on like this for another 4.
How sustainable is that? How can I focus on developing the programmes that absolutely make a difference, when mostly I am thinking about income generation and covering my bills each month. I would imagine that the money spent on teas and coffees at the breaks could quite easily fund Too Fat to Run for a year.
I have heaps and heaps of anecdotal evidence which proves my programmes work, women who have gone from complete inactivity to now living an active life, women who have come off of anti depression, women who have trained to become running coaches, women who have full filled life long ambitions to run races when nobody believed they could.
Having an opportunity to share my learning at an event like this would have been priceless, being able to pitch to investors to explain how with a very small amount of money (in the whole scheme of things) I could roll out a UK wide programme which moving forward would not rely on public funds.
But having a seat around the table, and at least being present at these events is a start.
UKActive do a fantastic job with their long-standing and uncompromising vision to get more people, more active, more often. They achieve this by facilitating big impact partnerships, championing innovation, providing high quality services to our members, campaigning, providing research and sharing insights.
Sitting here today and reading their MileStone Review I realise how far reaching this is, and have a clearer idea of their role in getting major players onboard with the thinking on this agenda.
I would like to thank them for coordinating this successful day that brought so many experts and professionals together, and I thank them for allowing me to come along and blog about the day.
I would love to get more involved in their work moving forward and am excited about what the future holds for inactivity work in the UK moving forward.