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This is probably the worst time of the year to launch a campaign to get people more active, it’s cold outside, its dark when you go to work and even darker when you come home, and there’s all that Xmas shopping to be done, ordered online and delivered straight to your door of course.

So I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news in the lead up to the festivities but we (as in absolutely everyone on this planet) need to wake up and pay attention to the health crisis which is killing one in six of us in the UK yet most of us are blissfully unaware of its dangers.

So…

Sod staying out of the sun

Sod cutting back on your wine intake

Sod the should I or shouldn’t I eat that cream cake

None of that really matters, not when the number one health issue we face globally (yes globally) is…nope, it’s not Obesity, wait for it…

Inactivity

So if you read the title of this blog post and thought I was talking about FAT people again, you are wrong. I am talking about EVERYONE, whether you wear a size 8 or a size 18, are a member of a gym or not, have a manual job or go to work in a suit everyday. This health issue is affecting us ALL!!

The fact that so few of us (27% to be precise) are doing anywhere near the recommended amount of movement these days that our bodies need to be healthy is not just a matter of weight gain, our sedentary lifestyles are responsible for many of the most scary diseases, and it’s not only killing us, it is crippling our economy (our health and social care systems in particular), and leading us in a direction that doesn’t bode well for our children, in a nut shell it is making us all ridiculously unhappy and sick.

IMG_5745.JPGOn Thursday last week I went along to a conference here in London delivered by ukactive a not-for-profit body comprised of members and partners from across the UK active lifestyle sector, they have a long-standing and uncompromising vision to simply get more people, more active, more often – I guess a little bit like mine!

Their annual summit saw the launch of “Steps to solving inactivity” a report outlining findings from the largest national review of physical activity interventions of its kind drawing on official government data to show that 29 per cent of people in England are classed as physically inactive, meaning more than one in four people fail to achieve 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, even though they can do it in three ten minute bites. Whats worse is the borough Newham where I have lived my whole life has ranked no1 in a list of last active Local Authorities, so it’s no wonder I spent so much of my early adulthood sitting on my backside.

Now considering I have worked on the periphery of sport throughout my career, and have my ears to the ground as far as local issues even I was shocked to find this out when the “Olympic Borough Tops the Inactive List” news story broke, and I have spent much of the weekend trying to work out where it has all gone wrong. In fact as I ran through the almost empty Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park early on Saturday morning on route to my local parkrun, a 7 mile round trip I might add, I was somewhat cross that my fellow residents were in their beds, lounging on the couch in the warm, or possibly shopping in Westfield rather than enjoying being outside and proving that report wrong. But then I figured that this is not the way, rather than fixating on the problems we face I need to focus on solutions, the things I know work to address these terrible statistics and basically get people moving.

The conference on Thursday was superb with over 500 delegates all with the same objective, to get people moving, organisations that work tirelessly to improve the nations health and inspire change. We heard from Tanni Grey Thompson (a follower of this blog) who simply charmed the audience with her no crap messages around physical literacy, and the fact you can be Fit and Fat (whoop, whoop) she made a special plea which really struck a chord when she said

“Women need to say sod it more and find time for themselves…don’t worry about cleaning the home, get out and exercise”

Well, you don’t need to tell me twice.

There was also some interesting data presented by Bobby Duffy, from Ipsos MORI a leading market research company that really threw a spanner in the works around not only the reality of the current situation, but our perceived idea about how healthy we are a nation and what the biggest risks are.

statsResearch showed that the majority of us still believe that Obesity and Overeating is the biggest (no pun intended) problem, followed by alcohol, diet, smoking and then comes exercise (or lack of it) just ahead of Cancer, but strangely the population of the UK are more concerned with Cancer when thinking about their own health than they are exercise, which is stupid seeing as many cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes, and at least being more active is kind of within your control.

But don’t for a minute think this is just a UK problem, these ghastly figures can be found all across the globe, although embarrassingly we are kind of topping the tables right now with levels double those of Germany and France…and get this…20% higher than those in the United States.

Now I have to be careful here not to offend my followers across the pond (hi guys xxx), but here in the UK we often comment “we are getting more and more like America” in terms of obesity, probably due to the popularity of programmes like The Biggest Loser and a Year to Save my Life. Perhaps these stats will be the wake up call we need to stop with the “Well at least we are not as bad as them” which is an attitude many of us employ in an attempt to shift the focus off our own health and on to others…this is often seen in the media too with all their blatant fat shaming.

The point is finally we have the evidence which shows that this is not just a problem for overweight people, this is a problem for all of us. and in that vein we must find a collaborative, sustainable (ie not a 5 minute wonder of an idea) solution to get us back on track.

It is not all bad news though, with the report revealing that local authorities across the country have responded by nearly doubling the amount of public health funding they have allocated to tackling the issue representing a shift from 2 per cent to 4 per cent of public health budget, which is still very low in my opinion considering the scale of the problem.

In my borough this is a shift from £216,000 to £2.1million, and I for one will be interested to see how they spend that money…and if you are reading this Newham and need some ideas or some help to implement your plans, you know where I am. Like seriously.

IMG_5772.JPGOne of the final speakers was professor Kevin Fenton Director of Health & Wellbeing, at Public Health England, who spoke clearly about the need for everybody to be active everyday, and also alluded to the role of digital technologies in helping us to get there. He sounded very committed to the cause and clear in his conviction, but said we had to “be the change we want to see” a quote borrowed I do believe from Gandhi himself.

So when it came for questions I saw this as my chance and stuck my hands up before realising it.

“Great presentation, I especially liked the we must be the change we want to see, but here we are 500 people who have been sitting on our backsides for well over 7 hours today. What do you think of that?”

It wasn’t that I was trying to be difficult or critical of the conference organisers (as they had arranged for someone to keep us active through the day, but they had called in sick) it’s just this was a perfect opportunity to illustrate that it is us…YOU and ME that have to be this change. We can’t leave it up to everyone else, we have to change the culture where it is OK for an employer to have you sitting staring at a screen all day.

IMG_5762.PNGWe make a lot of assumptions about who the inactive are, and therefore who the unhealthy are and when we have these conversations we often talk about visits to GP surgeries, and the unemployed sitting watching daytime TV, but the fact is this problem is ageless, classless, raceless and any other less you want to think of.

The graphic here shows the 2 inactivity alerts I received while sitting in the main conference room, using my Polar Loop which I am testing.

I met with professor Fenton briefly after the event, and it just so happens he already follows me on Twitter and is aware of our Too Fat to Run campaign to normalise sport for overweight women. He welcomed my offer of helping to work through some of these issues, and I will be following up on that offer over the next few weeks.

The thing is though, we can’t expect the doctors and the politicians to sort this problem out for us completely, yes there are things that they can do, local authorities in particular have an important role to play, but ultimately we have to make a huge mindset shift ourselves and stop seeing sport and physical activity as something we have to go somewhere to do. Moving our bodies, getting the heart going and working up a sweat needs to feel normal and we need to be doing this stuff daily…with or without the support of lycra.

Are you geared up to help overcome inactivity in your area?

There are however also a few things you can do alongside the daily spurts of exercise, you could…

  1. Download the report and find out what the inactivity picture is in your local authorities (or part of the world perhaps, as these issues are being discussed all over the world)
  2. Be more inquisitive in your local area, approach your MP to find out what is being planned in light of these findings. Many areas have health boards or forums for local residents to feed in local concerns.
  3. Be a role model. Get out of the door and be seen enjoying physical activity. Speak to your neighbours. Offer to accompany someone on their first run, or set up a weekly walking group. 
  4. Continue to support the Too Fat to Run campaign

I don’t think the true implications of this report have really sunk in yet, but I reckon by the spring of next year inactivity will start to feature much more in political discussions both at a local and national level, and we must all make sure our views are represented in these conversations about solutions and that assumptions are not made about the barriers and the perceived barriers in the absence of the people who actually matter.

But we don’t need much more talk though folks, we need action and we need it now…so come on ladies what do you think should be done and what are you personally going to do to make things better?

  1. November 19, 2014

    I guess I never thought of inactivity as a big a problem as obesity. Laziness does, however BUG me! It just bugs me to see people drive around a parking lot for a half hour waiting for a spot closer to the building! REALLY? Where I live its bitterly cold right now and we’re being barraged by winter storm after winter storm; but this is NORMAL! (Hello from across the pond!! xxx) Put on your winter coats and deal with it! But I must examine my own lifestyle in this. I could do more to lead the way and set an example. So, off I go now, putting on my winter coat, hat and mittens for a walk. Go figure.. its snowing again. Hugs from across the pond!

  2. November 18, 2014

    Hi Julie
    I work in North Somerset and have been in Sports Development (that kind of work is as you probably know well and truly dumped and replaced with just getting people off their backsides!) for almost 20 yrs. The UK active report came to me the week before last and to be honest you cannot help but feel this is another report telling us very similar stats (only they are getting worse) and what we do as a service in North Somerset only touches the surface. I think your campaign to get 1 million women running is a brilliant idea and i am hoping our team can work with you in the future (we are currently funded by Public Health but they have a pot of money to spent on their aims laid out in their Joint Needs Assessment). When i heard your interview on MT i immediately emailed my manager to ask if this was something we could get involved in. I know we are kean to get a PR set up in our area but to be honest the communities we wish to target will not go to a PR as you know. i have put my email down so perhaps you can get back to me sometime and in the meantime i will talk further with my manager kind regards Kira Thorpe

    • November 19, 2014

      Hi Kira, perhaps you could be one of the pilot areas for next year. I’d be happy to discuss this with you and look at other opportunities too.

  3. November 18, 2014

    We need to look at the overall health of the population – including mental health. Depression leads to inactivity and although exercise is good for it when you in the depths you just cannot image getting out of the door or even off the sofa, let alone getting the heart rate up.
    Low self esteem and low self confidence get in the way for the overweight and unfit as well as lessons learnt as children. I was told I was rubbish at tennis-so guess what – I haven’t picked up a tennis racket since leaving school.
    Inactivity as well as obesity is so much more complicated than the smug skinnies would have us believe. If it were that easy we would all be slim, fit, non-smokers. There would be, no drug addicts and no alcoholics.but sadly humans have failings and shaming and pointing fingers does not inspire to improve. After all no-one sets out to become any of these things, But it is SO hard to stop being them.

    • November 19, 2014

      So true hilary, I know for one use exercise to help with my overall mental health and well being, but so many of us find ourselves stuck and exercise is the last thing we want to do. Having role models, and easier ways to try things without risk of further embaresment or feelings of self consciousness potentially can make this easier.

    • November 20, 2014

      Hilary, so well said. So true. We know cognitively that going for a walk will make us feel better.. the brain KNOWS this. But getting the body to conform to the brain’s wishes is a struggle. I think Julie’s blog goes a long way in helping us not feel alone in that regard, we just don’t need the finger pointing and shaming. Our smug skinny mates should walk a mile in our shoes….

  4. November 17, 2014

    That is scary – I mean the number of inactive people – I never thought the number of non active people could reach this level!
    Where I live it looks like everyone is out to walk, run or cycle, but this is probably still a too small percentage of the population.
    As for cleaning the house…I get out so often that my house looks like a post-nuclear war ruin!

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