The Department of Health estimates that a lack of physical activity across the UK costs the NHS over £8 billion each year (1). To put that into context, that’s the equivalent to the annual salary of more than 300,000 nurses.
The result of this inactivity costs each NHS trust around £5 million annually (2) but there appears to be a contradiction. Earlier this week the finger was being pointed squarely at the NHS for “inadequate” or “patchy” obesity services. Most reporting on this failed to mention the 60% of adult males & 72% of females in England who fail to meet previous physical activity guidelines (and the figures are no more encouraging among children and young people).
Current guidelines recommend that adults take part in at least 150 minutes’ of moderate intensity activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes of more. Most people agree that physical activity is good for their mental and physical wellbeing, but people are quick to come up with reasons why they aren’t as active as they should be. Time related pressures, limited leisure time and financial barriers are common reasons cited; along with poor health and psychological barriers such as lack of confidence or poor motivation. It seems that people will be more active if they can fit the activity into their busy lives; if it doesn’t cost too much and if the activity doesn’t require too much skill or physical competence.
And walking seems to address most of these issues and offers the potential to overcome many of the barriers to inactivity above. The health gains are numerous, (not to mention the environmental benefits). These include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (3); to helping prevent cognitive decline (4) and cancer (5); as well as reducing cravings for unhealthy foods (6) and lowering stress levels in children (7).
Of course, this isn’t new news. Along with cycling, it is at the heart of local transport and health strategies. Just before Christmas we presented our ethnographic research on experience of using a pedometer to increase physical activity at the Social Research Association Conference at the British Library. Our study confirmed that walking fitted well with some of these barriers to exercising.
Current NHS guidance equates 10 minutes of walking to 1,000 steps…. that’s 15 lots of 1,000 steps a week in order to meet physical activity guidelines. So for those of you who still haven’t decided on a New Year’s Resolution then you could do far worse than acquiring a pedometer.
(1) Department of Health. (2011). The Public Health Responsibility Deal. London: HM Government.
(2) Department of Health. (2009). Be active Be healthy. A plan for getting the nation moving. London: HM Government.
(3) Anderson L.B. “Physical activity and health. Even low intensity exercise such as walking is associated with better health.” British Medical Journal (2007)
(4) Kirk I. Erickson, Michelle W. Voss, Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, et al: “Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. January 31 (2011)
(5) “Walking more could prevent 10,000 breast and bowel cancers.”World Cancer Research Fund. August (2010)
(6) Hwajung, O, Taylor A. “Brisk walking reduces ad libitum snacking in regular chocolate eaters during a workplace simulation.” Appetite. Volume 58. February (2012)
(7) Lambiase MJ, Barry HM, Roemmich JN. “Effect of a Simulated Active Commute to School on Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2010)