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Why gyms ‘MISS’ the bigger picture relating to population level health…..

o get with the Groove we need to move………

It could be argued that the sheer choice of gyms available now means that it’s much more accessible than a decade ago where gyms were for those ‘meat head types’. Whilst the market has grown and the number of gyms has driven down prices there is still a huge public health concern. Inactivity.

You see the gym is a good place. Cutting edge equipment, exercise variety, class motivation are just some of the reasons it works – to a degree. But it has also confused the message a little. If you want to exercise you need to pay for a gym, need equipment and the expense of clothing. You need to buy being healthy.

Then there’s the status of being a gym member. The product is the ‘gym’. Go to the gym and you mix in the ‘fittie’ circles. However there is a movement we tend to forget about. A movement that is probably the most natural form of exercise.

Something that seems that miniscule it doesn’t count, but it does and the accumulative total over a year is significant to good health. Public Health England’s ‘ACTIVE 10’ campaign aimed at those short 10 minute burst of movement is testament to this thinking. Big scale public health initiatives aimed at harnessing small changes to the way we live our lives. Sport England are on the case too with their ‘active nation’ agenda.

Not only that but a movement that if captured can make the transition into a mode of transport instead of the car for those short journeys. WALKING. I see countless people walking on a treadmill when it’s beautiful outside. Huh? Harness that 40 minutes on the treadmill into movement and you have gone well over 2 miles.

And not just inactivity per se. But the dosage throughout the day of physical activity is as important as just doing it. Gone are the days  when us ‘fitties’ could get up in the morning before work and grind out a 10k run or gym session and then sit on our backside all day revelling in the fact we had done our exercise.

Oh no. Because regular movement throughout the day is needed to negate the harmful effects of sitting too long which includes bad posture, decreasing concentration, poor circulation and negative effects on the heart. For most of us our working life consists of sitting down.

And let’s not overlook the mental health benefits too of moving outside. Another victory to walking over the gym. Being connected to the environment is part of our DNA our evolution.

In an employment sense regular movement could be part of the solution to tackling the 131 million days lost, or the £9 billion per year spent on sick pay and associated costs (source: Public Health England). MSK (musculoskeletal) and stress rank in the top 3 main causes for lost working days.

“The current scientific evidence shows that when people have occupations in which they are on their feet for more than two hours a day, there seems to be a reduction in the risk of developing key chronic diseases,” John Buckley, professor of applied exercise science at the University of Chester in England and the author of a report about reducing sedentary lifestyles, told the Wall Street Journal.

So this walking lark has an ability to reach far more people than the gym has. I contract with Living streets promoting walking in business and 90% of the reactions are positive. We have simply forgotten how to move. We don’t always need to pay to move. But on the whole people want to be more active. Doing it is the hard bit.

Our urban and rural environment have hills and steps that we can utilise whilst walking. We have designed gym equipment that replicates this in an artificial form – treadmills and staircase exercise machines. We buy ourselves a commodity that is free to use and is right on our doorstep.

To achieve population health movement needs to become as second nature as brushing your teeth. Ask this – why do people brush their teeth? Habit. Prevent decay. A ritual taught from our parents. Physical activity is that important it needs the same attention. We are not talking marathons and gyms here, we are talking habitual exercise.

Of course it’s far more complex than this – infrastructure, built environment, breaking habits, culture change, and multi sector buy in from Business to Local and Central Government. But we would be hard pressed not to ignore the basics, what we teach our children, encouraging movement throughout our social and professional networks. That way the way we approach ‘moving more’ becomes the new brush your teeth habit.

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