Physical Activity

Physical Activity is defined as ‘Any force exerted by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure above resting level’. This includes all sorts of activities including walking, cycling, gardening, housework, play, dance, sport or deliberate exercise.

Physical activity is so important as the lack of it has significant impacts on public health e.g. the lack of physical activity is associated with significant risks to many aspects of health.

Within this section you can view a number of pages related to physical activity. These include;

Health benefits of physical activity

  • The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) underlined the importance of action on physical activity in his report At least five a week. This report provided the UK’s most authoritative and up to date summary of the evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health.
  • Increasing activity levels will contribute to the prevention and management of over 20 conditions and diseases including coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, positive mental health and weight management.
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, and cancer are the major causes of death in England, together accounting for almost 60% of premature deaths.
  • Inactive and unfit people have almost double the risk of dying from coronary heart disease. Physical activity is also an independent protective factor against coronary heart disease.
  • Increasing activity levels also has beneficial effects on musculoskeletal health, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, back pain and osteoarthritis.
  • Physical inactivity, along with unhealthy diets, has contributed to the rapid increases in obesity in both adults and children.
  • Regular physical activity reduces the risk of depression and has positive benefits for mental health including reduced anxiety, and enhanced mood and self-esteem.

Prevalence of physical activity

Adults are recommended to undertake a minimum of 30 minutes of at least moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week. The Health Survey for England showed that in 2006 only 40% of men and 28% of women met this guideline. However, the survey showed that physical activity has increased among both men and women since 1997.

Seventy per cent of boys and 61% of girls aged 2–15 years are sufficiently active to meet the recommendations for their age (at least 60 minutes of at least moderate-intensity activity each day).
SEPHO’s report on physical activity showed that there was no significant difference between levels of physical activity in the region and across the country as a whole.

Costs of inactivity

Much of the decline in overall physical activity is due to trends in our society that reduce opportunities for activity, such as increased car travel and car ownership, a decline in walking and cycling, fewer manual jobs, more labour-saving devices, and a rise in sedentary leisure activities such as watching TV and videos. Also lack of time is a very common stated barrier to physical activity.

There is evidence that public health action on a number of levels is helpful in increasing levels of physical activity. These include advocacy for policy and environmental changes; developing strategies such as local transport plans; involving primary care; running community programmes; targeting adults over 50; targeting young people via a whole school approach and ensuring proper monitoring, evaluation and data collection.