In the last week many publications have discussed The University of Bristol research which revealed that most adults in England are not exercising enough. Didn’t we already know this? While it is important that our best academic institutions carry out research into health issues, this research really does not appear to be telling us anything we do not already know. Is this a waste of research time and money?
However, the research providing some important insights into the types of activity that are done, and discovered some social and economic factors which determine how likely people are to exercise. This adds to our knowledge of the what is causing the global obesity crisis.
The study examined around 1 million English people from the Active People Surveys (APS). The APS was commissioned by Sport England who are focused on helping people to develop sporting habits.
Some of the findings providing mind-boggling facts:
- 8% of able-bodied people failed to walk for more than 5 minutes in a 4 week period.
- 46% of people had not spent 30 minutes walking for leisure in the last 4 weeks
- 88% of people do not swim – this is really unsurprising as there are not enough swimming baths to accommodate everybody
- 90% of people had not used a gym – again, gyms are expensive, only the wealthiest can afford the money to attend them
- 20% of over 16-year-olds only do minimal exercise
Money, Education and Neighbourhood
The research highlighted 3 main factors which determine if a person will exercise on a regular basis are money (household income), education and the wealth and economic status of their neighbourhood. Poor areas where there is more unemployment result in fewer people exercising.
But What Changed?
However, does this really explain why some people are not exercising? There have always been poorly educated people living in areas of social deprivation. People used to be more active. If people are not even walking does this mean they own cars? If so, can we really argue that money is an issue?
Is underemployment the problem or a move to the service sector? Until the mid 20th Century most people worked in manual jobs such as agriculture and manufacturing. Today a majority of people are working in the service sector, which generally involves sitting on a chair and looking at a computer or holding a telephone. All the hard work is done in factories overseas.
“They suggest that financial as well as cultural barriers need to be overcome to reduce the prevalence of physical inactivity.” Carol Propper, University of Bristol.
Today people are just less likely to go out and exercise. Maybe the school system, which in recent years focused on non-competitive exercise, led to a generation of people who have not interest in bettering themselves, let alone bettering others?
This research does not look at the gender differences either. Past research (Heather McLannahan and Pete Clifton, 2008) has shown that in wealthier classes men tend to still under perform with exercise while wealthy women are more likely to exercise and eat healthy to maintain a good figure.
Also, there is the impact on children to consider. Research has shown that in families where mothers are working the children tend to suffer – in terms of diet and weight. Convenience meals and treats are more common in families where both parents work and money is not a problem.
There are certainly many factors at play when looking at the causes of sedentary lifestyles and obesity. However, what is known is that “physical inactivity is also recognised as potentially the most important modifiable health behaviour for chronic disease” – inactivity is causing death.
If we look back the findings that Michael Mosley presented in “The Truth About Exercise” exercise has a positive impact on several health biomarkers. It does not only improve cardiovascular fitness and aid weight loss, it helps to regulate blood sugar levels, cholesterol values, fat composition and blood pressure.
Obesity – Cause or Effect?
Of course, although a lack of exercise increases health risk, and exercise aids weight loss, there is still the big question – is obesity a symptom or the cause of the problem? Is a lack of activity caused by obesity and the health issues that arise when people become overweight (tiredness, lack of energy, lack of motivation, depression). Dr. Peter Attia believes that obesity may be the disease and from his personal experience, regular exercise does not always make you slim and healthy.
The bottom line is that most people fail to get enough exercise and fail to eat healthy, which is why so many people are now either overweight or obese.
- Are you overweight? Find out here: Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator
- Are you getting enough exercise? Find out here: How Much Exercise Is Needed to Get Fit and Lose Weight?
“The Socioeconomic Gradient in Physical Inactivity in England” by Lisa Farrell, RMIT University in Australia, Bruce Hollingsworth, Lancaster University, Carol Propper, University of Bristol, Imperial College London and Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and Michael A Shields from Monash University in Australia.
Who plays sport? Sport England – links to several Sport England reports on sport activity.
“Challenging Obesity: The science behind the issues” Edited by Heather McLannahan and Pete Clifton. 2008 Oxford University Press.