Small steps bring big gains in the battle against physical inactivity
Posted: Tue, 02 May 2017 07:58
The news is currently full of the frightening statistic that more than 20 million people in the UK risk heart disease and other illnesses because they are physically inactive, according to a report by the British Heart Foundation.
At Spirit of 2012, the funding charity that I am proud to lead, this was – alas - not surprising news. It is one of the reasons we are committing our National Lottery funding to the battle against inactivity across the UK.
Last year, we launched Get Out & Get Active (GOGA), a £4.5million project designed to get inactive people off the couch in eighteen locations across the UK. The project supports people to take part in fun and inclusive physical activity, and challenges providers to gear existing provision so more people can enjoy it.
GOGA is a small step towards tackling a massive problem, but we hope to enhance thousands of lives, demonstrate effective approaches and support the goals of the Government's new Sport Strategy for an Active Nation.
GOGA is being informed by our two year Legacy 2014 partnership with the Scottish Government to deliver increased physical activity through the Physical Activity Fund. Together with eleven local authority partners, we have been exploring ways to incentivise people in some of the least active communities to get more active. Just as importantly, we are sharing the information about what works best to help people change their activity habits.
Often it's the little things that make a difference. Discovering them takes time and patience, but we are beginning to unearth valuable insights that we call 'Golden Nuggets'. We recently hosted a conference of that name where 200 attendees from across Scotland discussed what our delivery organisations, policymakers, volunteers and academics had learned about how best to get people more active and remain active.
That project is now entering a new phase and it is over to the University of Strathclyde and six passionate and informed Physical Activity Champions to take the lessons out there and ensure this great practice can be accessed and shared as widely as possible.
Sharing good practice is a potent weapon in the battle against inactivity. Good equipment and glossy new facilities help, of course, but only if people feel comfortable using them. The keys to triggering personal motivation are often much simpler. For example one of our Golden Nuggets is that having a chat and a cup of tea - and forging new friendships - is an important first step which gives people the confidence to join a group and get more active.
Our projects noticed an almost instant boost in attendance figures when they made the simple change of providing refreshments. It's these 'human touch' details that change lives, and we are making it our mission to share our insights as widely as possible with providers across the sector.
We all know it is a mammoth challenge to engage groups that are way below average in terms of physical activity participation. Last year The Guardian highlighted a recent poll, conducted for Leonard Cheshire Disability, revealing that 47% of disabled adults had not completed 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise in the past week (the recommended daily adult level is 30 minutes per day).
Why does this matter? It matters because almost one fifth of the UK's population self-identify as disabled. Disabled people need to be as active as the other 80%. Yet the reality is that they are half as likely to be as active as non-disabled peers. This is why we are committed to funding inclusive projects that address the barriers, including attitudes and perceptions, which may disable people from having equal opportunities to participate and from enjoying good health.
Spirit has also recently been commissioned to manage the Scottish Government's new Sporting Equality Fund, the aim of which is to increase physical activity among Women and Girls. The successful Sport England This Girl Can campaign has highlighted that this is another group less likely to be physically active and where there is work to be done.
Our GOGA project, in which Women in Sport is a partner, is focusing on increasing activity among women and girls in Bradford and other communities and we will make sure that there are productive links between that learning and the Sporting Equality Fund work, which will begin in the summer.
I was struck by the raw, honest testimony of one young girl from the Highlands, who spoke about what getting involved in a dance group, Movers and Shakers, has meant to her. This thoughtfully designed project aims to increase girls' activity levels through dance, while nurturing confidence and leadership skills.
Speaking at the Golden Nuggets conference, the sixth-former described how she used to be alienated from teachers and parents, disaffected with school and depressed. For her, participating in the project has been transformational. "…I'm a nicer person now".
Spirit funded projects have also focused on the elderly, single parents and their children, BAME communities and those suffering from mental ill-health.
All this is a tiny dent in the 20 million. But it is so important and it should not just be down to the voluntary sector and sports councils to fight this battle. Time and again we see that the least active people are the most isolated too.
That is why building social connectedness is the key. Projects like Legacy 2014, the Sporting Equality Fund and GOGA help participants to live active, healthy and connected lives - and ultimately to become physically fitter, and also happier, people.
Debbie Lye is Chief Executive of Spirit of 2012