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Tanni Grey-Thompson: My manifesto for an active Britain

Dame Tanni Grey-ThompsonDame Tanni Grey-Thompson doesn't need much introducing as one of the UK's most famous and successful paralympians. She is now at the head of UK Active. Prior to the recent UK elections she wrote about her manifesto to get Britain more active. This is what she said...

Thursday sees people across the UK, some for the first time, put pen to paper on ballot papers in pursuit of a brighter future. Many of the challenges we must overcome to achieve this – a stretched NHS, an ageing society, divided communities, the economy and the impact of Brexit – have rightly featured heavily in this election campaign.

A sedentary lifestyle significantly increases risk of up to 20 conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancers and mental health problems. But there is a golden thread which runs through each of them that we cannot afford to overlook: physical activity.

The miracle cure

Dubbed the “miracle cure” by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, physical activity has the power to transform our health, communities and our economy. The potential rewards of an Active Britain are huge. But if we fail to act now, the consequences will be disastrous.

Physical inactivity causes twice as many deaths as obesity and costs the UK economy an estimated £20 billion each year. Living a sedentary lifestyle significantly increases risk of up to 20 conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancers and mental health problems.

If we want the NHS to survive and indeed thrive, we need a radical shift towards prevention over cure.  For the NHS, tasked with finding billions in efficiency savings by 2020, around 70 per cent of its budget is currently consumed by the treatment of long-term conditions such as the above.

Put simply, if we want the NHS to survive and indeed thrive, we need a radical shift towards prevention over cure. Our focus must switch from waiting to treat illness to proactively promoting wellness.

Our children are less active than ever

The obvious place to start is with young people. Today’s children are the least active ever and we need a serious shake-up of the school day if we are to save Generation Inactive from a lifetime of ill-health.

It’s not just a case of buying more bats and balls for the PE cupboard, we have to embrace creative solutions. That’s why there should be a commitment to the regular measurement of children’s activity levels – as we do with all other subjects – to measure progress and ensure that those children falling behind receive extra support.

We know healthy habits are heard-earned and easily lost, so why not roll out active mile schemes across the country, as a sure-fire way to ensure children are moving every day? And better still, let’s use money from the sugar tax to open up schools as summer camps so that all children – particularly the most deprived – have access to free activity sessions and healthy meals.

Giving our children an active start in life is essential, but how do we help maintain active lifestyles once they’re out of the playground and into the workplace?

Sedentary offices

The toxic toll of sedentary office culture is wreaking havoc on our workers’ health. Many workers struggle to fit exercise into their busy days, leading to higher rates of absenteeism (which costs the UK £29bn a year) and reduced productivity across the workforce. Now is the perfect time to spark a sea change with some sensible policies to boost both bottom lines and the wellbeing of our workforce.

Why not support businesses (and not just the big ones) by making it easier for them to offer employee benefits such as gym memberships? The Treasury could broaden the hugely successful cycle to work salary sacrifice scheme – estimated to have saved £5.1bn through health benefits accrued through participation – to encompass gym passes, fitness products and accessories.

It goes without saying that active schools and workplaces will bring huge physical and mental health benefits, but it’s the societal impact of physical activity which is often overlooked. By putting physical activity at the heart of community infrastructure, we can empower all sections of society to lead more active lifestyles.

Whatever choice each of us makes on Thursday for who should lead Britain over the next five years, one thing is clear. In order to build a happier, healthier and wealthier nation, we must strive to make physical activity the natural choice for all aspects of life.

Nick White June 12, 2017 2 tags (show)

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