Physical inactivity contributes to one in six deaths in the UK and increases the risk of a wide range of health problems – including obesity, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, hip fractures, depression and dementia. 1 2  Some estimates suggest that physical inactivity is responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity. 3  While it is not until adulthood and older age that most of the associated increase in ill health and premature deaths is observed, the exposure to health risks through physical inactivity begins in childhood.

As well as affecting individual health and wellbeing, physical inactivity also puts pressure on public services.  Conditions related to inactivity are estimated to cost the NHS in Hackney and the City a total of £2.2 million a year, with the largest costs associated with treating diabetes (over £900,000 a year). 4

Being physically active, therefore, has huge benefits for health and wellbeing, helping to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases (see Figure 1), many of which are on the rise and affecting people at an earlier age. 5 Supporting inactive people (those doing less than 30 minutes of at least moderate physical activity per week) to become more active could prevent one in 10 cases of stroke and heart disease in the UK and one in six deaths from any cause. In Hackney alone, if all adults aged 40-79 were active at recommended levels, 106 deaths could be prevented each year. 6  Physical activity can slow or prevent age-related cognitive decline, and is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia; it can also be highly effective in reducing the incidence of falls, the leading cause of accidental death in older people in England. [6]   Research shows that the greatest reduction in risk of premature death comes when people who are inactive start doing even a small amount of physical activity. 7 The strength of evidence for the health benefits of physical activity led the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to describe exercise as a ‘miracle cure’. 8

Highlights a reduction in dementia, hip fractures, depression, all-cause mortality, CVD, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer
Figure 1: Health benefits of physical activity

Source: Public Health England 9

Recognising the importance of physical activity for health, the government’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has released guidelines covering different age groups (0-5, 5-18, 18+) to communicate what constitutes physical activity, how much physical activity people need to do, and the health benefits of physical activity.  A summary of CMO guidelines is set out below.  10 11 12

  • Infants who are not yet walking should be physically active from birth and minimise sedentary time.
  • Infants who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active for at least three hours (180 minutes) spread throughout the day.
  • Children and young people aged 5-18 should be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day and should minimise the time spent sitting.
  • Adults should aim to be active daily and do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity) each week. Moderate intensity means activities such as brisk walking or cycling, or any other form of physical activity which causes adults to get warmer and breathe faster and their hearts to beat more quickly, but where they can still carry on a conversation. People doing vigorous physical activity would have difficulty talking while doing the activity. Adults should minimise the time spent sitting.
  • Older adults (over age 65) should aim for the same thresholds as other adults and, if they are at risk of falls, should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and coordination on at least two days a week.

Despite these guidelines, only over half (57%) of adults in England meet the recommended levels of physical activity and more than a quarter (29%) are estimated to be inactive (i.e. do less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week). Similarly, only a minority of children meet the current guidelines for physical activity. 13 14

References

  1. I. Lee, E. J. Shiroma, F. Lobelo, P. Puska, S. N. Blair and P. T. Katzmarzyk, “Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy,” The Lancet, vol. 380, no. 9838, pp. 219-229, 2012.
  2. Public Health England, “Health matters: getting every adult active every day,” 2016.
  3. Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, “Lack of exercise responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity,” 2015.
  4. Public Health England, “Physical inactivity: economic costs to NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups,” 2016.
  5. Public Health England, “Health matters: getting every adult active every day,” 2016.
  6. Public Health England, “Health Impact of Physical Inactivity,” 2013.
  7. Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, “Lack of exercise responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity,” 2015.
  8. Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, “Exercise: the miracle cure and the role of the doctor in supporting it,” 2015.
  9. Public Health England, “Health matters: getting every adult active every day,” 2016.
  10. Department of Health, “Chief Medical Officers physical activity guidelines,” 2011
  11. Department of Health, “Chief Medical Officers physical activity guidelines for early years (under 5s) for children who are capable of walking,” 2011.
  12. Department of Health, “Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults,” 2011.
  13. Health and Social Care Information Centre, “Health Survey for England,” 2008.
  14. “Physical activity tool,” Public Health England, [Online]. Available: http://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/physical-activity/data#page/9/gid/1938132899/pat/6/par/E12000007/ati/102/are/E09000012. [Accessed 14 September 2016].