To Save The NHS

Exercise & travel

We Must All Take Greater Responsibility For Our Own Health

Society today is less active than ever before. Meanwhile, demands on our health service have reached unprecedented levels. This is not a coincidence.

Our living and working environments have been stripped of movement, with drastic consequences. Technology has taken us from hunter-gatherers to smartphone takeaway swipers, offering easy calories with none of the requisite exertion to maintain a healthy weight.

As with any complex issue, turning the tide on our country’s inactivity epidemic requires a range of innovative solutions and collaborative efforts.

Today, I’ll address nearly 600 thought leaders from the fields of health, politics and physical activity at the ukactive National Summit in London. The conference will outline ukactive’s Blueprint for an Active Britain and the role that exercise can play in safeguarding the future of the NHS.

The need for concerted action is pressing. Physical inactivity causes twice as many deaths as obesity and costs the UK economy an estimated £20billion 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.

For the NHS, tasked with finding billions in efficiency savings by 2020, around 70% 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.

Since 1948, the NHS has been a central pillar of our society. It has been there to support us throughout our lives – from birth, to parenthood, in our most vulnerable moments and right through to our final days.

Now it’s time for the public to support the NHS. We must empower people to take responsibility for their health by making the right lifestyle choices.

With its unrivalled network of facilities and ever-growing expertise in behaviour change, the physical activity sector could be perfectly placed to take the strain off our overstretched health service.

We have seen countless examples of how integrated health and wellbeing services can transform communities when aligned to the facilities and services of the physical activity sector.

That’s why I’m calling for the government’s Industrial Strategy to lead a £1billion regeneration scheme to transform the UK’s ageing fleet of leisure centres into new community wellness hubs.

These wellness hubs combine swimming pools, gyms and sports halls, with GP drop-in centres, libraries and police services, to create a one-stop-shop for public services.

Yes, it’s a big ask at a time of tight budgets. But this level of investment is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost to the NHS of a full-blown inactivity epidemic.

It is a fraction of the cost of the £55billion HS2 project or the £17billion Third Runway, and yet it could save thousands of lives.

The Government’s Industrial Strategy must recognise that our public health infrastructure is just as important as our train or plane networks.

With government borrowing costs at an all-time low, now is the perfect opportunity to invest in our future. Transforming our infrastructure to inspire movement can catalyse the cultural shift needed to inspire a more active Britain.

Putting physical activity – described by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges as a miracle cure – at the heart of community infrastructure is the only long-term solution to save the NHS from bankruptcy.

It is time to take the bold and radical decisions to integrate physical activity into our daily lives. For the sake of our health and that of the NHS, we must all take responsibility.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post