Lifestyle: physical activity

A PDF version of this chapter as at 16 August 2019 is available here.
Content may not reflect the latest changes in the State of Suffolk web pages.

 

Note:
On 1 April 2019:
West Suffolk Council replaced Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council
East Suffolk Council replaced Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney District Council
This State of Suffolk report was created before these changes, so gives information for the pre-2019 council areas.

 

1 Five key points

  1. Low levels of physical activity are a significant contributor to disease and disability in Suffolk. It is estimated that around 1,850 premature deaths each year are attributable to physical inactivity. (2 Why is physical activity important in Suffolk?)
  1. Regular physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases and also reduces the risk of mental ill health including depression, cognitive decline and dementia. (2 Why is physical activity important in Suffolk?
     
  2. It is recommended that children and young people engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least an hour every day. In Suffolk, only 1 in 6 children and young people meet these guidelines. (3.1 Children and young people
     
  3. It is recommended that adults engage in 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity (such as cycling or brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (such as running or a game of singles tennis) per week. In Suffolk, 6 in 10 adults (around 380,000 people) are classed as active because they meet the recommended guidelines. (3.2 Adults
     
  4. In Suffolk, the estimated total cost attributable to inactivity is £134m per year. This figure includes the direct costs of treating diseases linked to inactivity and the indirect costs caused by sickness absence. (2 Why is physical activity important in Suffolk?

2 Why is physical activity important in Suffolk?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global death, with more than 5 million deaths worldwide attributed to it.[1], [2] In the UK alone, physical activity contributes to one in ten premature deaths from coronary heart disease, and one in six deaths overall.[3] Regular physical activity throughout life enables people to live better and longer lives.

The benefits of physical activity for physical and mental health are well documented (Figure 1). The link between physical inactivity and obesity is also well established. With more than half of adults in England currently overweight or obese, everyone has the potential to benefit from being more active. However, it is important that physical activity is not contextualized solely as an option for combating obesity.

Low physical activity is one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England. It is estimated that within Suffolk, there are 244.6 premature deaths per 100,000 people per year attributed to physical inactivity.[4] Applying this estimate to the estimated population of Suffolk (757,000) suggests that 1,852 premature deaths per year may be attributable to physical inactivity.

Regular physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, many of which are on the rise and affecting people at an earlier age; one in three people of working age has at least one long term condition, and one in seven has more than one.[5]

Physical activity also has a key role to play in falls prevention among older people through improving balance, coordination and strength, and also in relation to an individual’s ability to live independently.[6]–[9] Engaging in physical activity in the local community can also help combat loneliness and social isolation.

Figure 1: The health benefits of physical activity[5]

Figure 1: The health benefits of physical activity

Source: Public Health England. Health matters: getting every adult active every day. (2016).

Furthermore, physical activity reduces the risk of mental disorders including depression, cognitive decline and dementia. It also improves self-perception of mental wellbeing, increases self-esteem, lowers the likelihood of sleep disorders and enables a better ability to cope with stress.[10], [11]

When unwell, inactive people tend to spend more time in contact with health services than active people; this includes 38% more days in hospital; 5.5% more GP visits; use of 13% more specialist services; and 12% more nurse visits.[12] Additionally, a greater percentage of coronary heart disease deaths can be attributed to physical inactivity (37%) than either hypertension (13%) or smoking (19%).[13]

The financial benefits of increasing levels of physical activity are potentially enormous. The total cost of inactivity in England has been estimated at £8.2 billion per year, which is driven by direct health costs and lost productivity in the wider economy. Direct health costs alone in England are estimated at between £1-1.8 billion.[14] The cost of inactivity per year to Suffolk per 100,000 people is estimated at £17.7 million.[4] Applying this estimate to the estimated population of Suffolk (757,000) suggests a total cost attributable to inactivity of £134m per year in Suffolk. This figure includes the direct costs of treating diseases linked to inactivity and the indirect costs caused by sickness absence.

In summary, increasing physical activity has the potential to deliver multiple goals and outcomes, including contributing to the quality of life and wellbeing of individuals and to wider social, community and economic benefits. Taking everything into account there is a strong rationale for a focus on reducing physical inactivity.

3 What is the local picture?

3.1 Children and young people

Recommended guidelines for physical activity in children and young people aged 5 to 18 years are engagement in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.[15] Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least three days a week. The intensity level of an activity can be thought of as "how hard a person works to complete the activity”. Examples of moderate intensity activities include walking, dancing and gardening. Examples of vigorous intensity activities include running, fast cycling and competitive sports such as football, netball and hockey.

All children and young people should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods. Being active for at least 60 minutes a day is linked to better general health, stronger bones and muscles, and higher levels of self-esteem. The Active Lives Children Survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of Sport England, for the first time provides comprehensive data in relation to activity levels amongst children and young people aged 5 – 15 years across England.[16]

In Suffolk, just 1 in 6 (17.5%) children and young people aged 5–15 years meet the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidelines for physical activity. A further 1 in 4 (25.7%) achieve an average of 60 minutes activity or more a day but not every day. The largest single group are those who are active for less than 30 minutes a day; 1 in 3 (33.6%) children are in this group, which equates to around 30,000 children and young people in Suffolk (Figure 2). This is comparable to the levels of less active 5-15-year olds in England (32.9%) and the East of England (31.1%).[16]

Figure 2: Proportion of children and young people aged 5-15 by activity level, Suffolk, 2018[17]

Figure 2: Proportion of Children and young people aged 5-15 by activity level, Suffolk, 2018

Source: Sport England. Active Lives Survey. (2018).

Although local research has highlighted that in Suffolk over 60% of secondary school children reported being inactive during break times, activity levels across primary and secondary education are broadly similar (Figure 3).[16], [18]

Figure 3: Proportion of children and young people aged 5-15 by activity level and educational setting, Suffolk, 2018[16]

Figure 3: Proportion of Children and young people aged 5-15 by activity level and educational setting, Suffolk, 2018[

Source: Sport England. Active Lives Survey. (2018).

Survey data from The Active Lives Children Survey is available at district/borough level. However, figures are based on small sample sizes so should be treated with caution. Further  information is available on the Active Lives tool: https://activelives.sportengland.org/.[17]

3.2 Adults

The recommended guidelines for physical activity in adults are 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week.[15] Examples of moderate intensity activities include walking, dancing and gardening. Examples of vigorous intensity activities include running, fast cycling and competitive sports such as football, netball and hockey. Adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week and should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include lifting weights, hill walking and heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling. The Active Lives Adult Survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Sport England provides the most comprehensive and current picture of activity levels across England.

In Suffolk, six in ten (61.2%) adults are classed as active because they meet the CMO recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, which equates to around 380,000 adults.[17] Compared to the same period a year earlier, this represents a significant increase in the proportion of active adults (from 59.7% to 61.2%). However, the remaining 38.8% of adults are classed as insufficiently active because they achieve less than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week; within this group, one in four (26.0%) adults are classed as inactive because they are active for less than 30 minutes per week. In Suffolk, there are around 240,000 adults whose health could be improved by increasing the amount of exercise they take (Figure 4). Nationally and regionally, adult activity levels are similar to those in Suffolk, with just over 25% of adults inactive (25.2% England, 25.6% East)) and around 62% active (62.3% England, 61.6% East).[17]

Figure 4: Proportion of adults by activity level, Suffolk, 2018[17]

Figure 4: Proportion of adults by activity level, Suffolk, 2018

Source: Sport England. Active Lives Survey. (2018).

At a district/borough level, Ipswich has both the highest number and proportion of active adults (Table 1). Additionally, Ipswich has seen a statistically significant increase (of 8.4%) in the proportion of active adults over the last 12 months. The highest number of inactive adults were found in the east of the county where 58,300 adults were inactive (29,900 in Suffolk Coastal and 28,400 in Waveney). Babergh district was the only area to see a statistically significant increase in the proportion of inactive adults over the last 12 months.[17]

Table 1: Proportion of adults by activity level and district/borough, Suffolk, 2018[17]
Table 1: Proportion of adults by activity level and district/borough, Suffolk, 2018

Source: Sport England. Active Lives Survey. (2018).

Historically, the Active People Survey in England (2005-16) and the Active Lives Survey in England (2016 – present) have both highlighted the significant inequalities that exist in relation to participation in physical activity and sport. Data have consistently shown that women, adults from lower socio-economic groups, disabled people, older people and adults from some ethnic groups have lower rates of physical activity.

The Active Lives Adult Survey highlights the following inequalities in Suffolk (Figure 5):[17]

  • Gender: men are slightly more likely to be classified as active compared with women (62.6% v 60.2%). Around a quarter of both men and women are inactive.
  • Age: physical activity generally decreases with age. Whereas almost 3 in 4 younger people aged 16-34 are active, fewer than half of people aged 75+ are active. With the number of older adults in Suffolk expected to increase significantly over the next 20 years, this will continue to be a challenge.
  • Disability: a person with a limiting illness or disability is twice as likely to be physically inactive as a person without a limiting illness or disability. Furthermore, the risk of inactivity increases as the number of impairments an individual has increases; 49.4% of people with three or more impairments are inactive.
  • Socio-economic classification: physical activity levels generally rise in line with socio-economic group status. People in managerial and professional occupations are more likely to be active than people in routine/semi-routine jobs or those who are long term unemployed or have never worked.
  • Ethnicity: data from the Active People Survey 2014/15 highlights that in Suffolk adults from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups (24.5%) tend to be less Inactive than White British adults (26.5%).

Information about active travel can be found in the How we travel section of the State of Suffolk.

Figure 5: Proportion of adults by activity level and characteristics, Suffolk, 2018[17

Figure 5: Proportion of adults by activity level and characteristics, Suffolk, 2018

Notes: NS SEC 1-2: higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations; NS SEC 3-5: intermediate occupations; NS SEC6-8: routine and manual occupations or long term unemployed; BAME = black and minority ethnic

Source: Sport England. Active Lives Survey. (2018).

4 What policies affect physical activity?

Key national strategies, including HM Government’s “Sporting Future: a new Strategy for an Active Nation”[19] and Sport England’s “Towards an Active Nation”[20] are reflected in the work of organisations such as the Most Active County Partnership and Active Suffolk. These strategies focus on the wider benefits of physical activity and the key outcomes of physical and mental wellbeing and individual, community, social and economic development.

In response to this strategic context, in September 2017, Suffolk County Council published a Physical Activity Needs Assessment for Suffolk[21]. Taking account of existing walking, cycling and disability sport strategies, the Physical Activity Needs Assessment acknowledges the important role that physical activity plays in society and recognises the many factors that influence physical activity levels. It makes a series of recommendations across the five outcome areas of the Government’s and Sport England’s strategies - physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development and economic development – in order to provide an evidence base from which a coordinated and integrated strategy and action plan can be developed to specifically address the physical activity needs of the Suffolk population. The Most Active County Partnership[22] has been charged by the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board with interpreting these recommendations and developing a series of actions to support their implementation.

The Most Active County Partnership is a collaboration of local authorities, public sector bodies, the voluntary sector and private companies that have committed to work collaboratively to bring added value to the good work that many organisations across Suffolk are already doing to address inactivity. Launched in February 2012, it recognises that the inactivity agenda is beyond the scope of any single agency with effective partnerships being fundamental to success. It adopts a system-wide approach to move people from being inactive to active, address inequalities and get people moving at scale, whilst also securing an economic benefit for the county. Since being established the partnership has driven a significant number of additional opportunities and secured a meaningful economic boost to the county.

Underpinning the work of the Most Active County Partnership are a series of strategies and policies at local, district and borough council level, including planning and design, health and wellbeing, sport and leisure, open space and wider community development, and a thriving physical activity and sports sector including leisure operators, voluntary and community sector, clubs and societies, healthy lifestyle services and county sports partnership.

5 Further information 

The Most Active County Partnership[22] is a collaboration of local authorities, public sector bodies, the voluntary sector and private companies that have committed to work collaboratively to bring added value to the good work that many organisations across Suffolk are already doing to address inactivity. www.mostactivecounty.com

Active Suffolk is one of 43 Active Partnerships nationally who aim to provide a single source of sport and physical activity information for participants, clubs, coaches, volunteers, partners and the media in the county. Its strategic vision is to improve health and wellbeing across Suffolk by inspiring everyone to be more active. www.activesuffolk.org

Sport England are a national body whose vision is that everyone in England, regardless of age, background or ability, feels able to take part in sport or activity. Sport England provide a range of information, research and funding to support these aims throughout England.  www.sportengland.org

A Physical Activity Needs Assessment for Suffolk[21] was published in 2017. This provides a wealth of information and local survey data about physical activity. www.healthysuffolk.org.uk/uploads/2017-10-12_Needs_assessment_Final.pdf

Being physically active is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One Life Suffolk is a healthy lifestyles organisation, commissioned by Public Health Suffolk, who can offer free tips and practical advice about physical activity, including organised group walks. onelifesuffolk.co.uk/

Park Run and Junior Park Run are a national initiative to encourage people to become more active by running in local parks. These free events take place around the county every Saturday morning. More details can be found here: www.parkrun.org.uk

The Active Lives Survey[23], which replaces the Active People Survey, gives a new way of measuring sport and activity across England. The data can be accessed via the Active Lives Online tool. activelives.sportengland.org

6 References

[1]      World Health Organisation, “Global recommendations on physical activity for health,” 2010. Available at: http://www.who.int/ncds/prevention/physical-activity/guidelines-global-recommendations-for-health/en/

[2]      I.-M. Lee et al., “Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy,” Lancet, vol. 380, no. 9838, pp. 219–229, 2012.

[3]      British Heart Foundation, “Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour report,” 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/publications/statistics/physical-inactivity-report-2017

[4]      UK Active, “Turning the tide of inactivity,” 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.ukactive.com/reports/turning-the-tide-of-inactivity/

[5]      Public Health England, “Health matters: getting every adult active every day,” 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-getting-every-adult-active-every-day/health-matters-getting-every-adult-active-every-day

[6]      L. D. Gillespie et al., “Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community,” Cochrane database Syst. Rev., no. 9, 2012. Available at:  https://www.cochrane.org/CD007146/MUSKINJ_interventions-for-preventing-falls-in-older-people-living-in-the-community

[7]      I. D. Cameron et al., “Interventions for preventing falls in older people in nursing care facilities and hospitals,” Cochrane Database Syst Rev, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010. Available at: https://www.cochrane.org/CD005465/MUSKINJ_interventions-preventing-falls-older-people-care-facilities-and-hospitals

[8]      Department of Health, “Falls and fractures Effective interventions in health and social care,” 2009. [Online]. Available: www.laterlifetraining.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/FF_Effective-Interventions-in-health-and-social-care.pdf

[9]      Department of Health, “Falls and fractures Exercise Training to Prevent Falls,” 2009. [Online]. Available: www.laterlifetraining.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/FF_Exercise-Training-to-Prevent-Falls.pdf

[10]    M. Hamer and Y. Chida, “Physical activity and risk of neurodegenerative disease: a systematic review of prospective evidence,” Psychol. Med., vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 3–11, 2009.

[11]    S. J. H. Biddle and N. Mutrie, Psychology of physical activity: Determinants, well-being and interventions. Routledge, 2007.

[12]    N. Sari, “Physical inactivity and its impact on healthcare utilization,” Health Econ., vol. 18, no. 8, pp. 885–901, 2009.

[13]    British Heart Foundation National Centre, “Economic costs of physical inactivity,” 2010. [Online]. Available: http://www.ssehsactive.org.uk/userfiles/Documents/eonomiccosts.pdf

[14]    Department of Health, “Be active, be healthy: a plan for getting the nation moving,” 2009. [Online]. Available: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_094358

[15]    Department of Health, “UK physical activity guidelines,” 2011. [Online]. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-physical-activity-guidelines

[16]    Sport England, “Active Lives Children and Young People,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.sportengland.org/research/active-lives-survey/active-lives-children-and-young-people/

[17]    Sport England, “Active Lives Survey,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://activelives.sportengland.org/.

[18]    Suffolk County Council, “The Suffolk Children’s Physical Activity Survey,” 2017.

[19]    Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport, “Sporting Future - A New Strategy for an Active Nation,” 2015. Available at: http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2015-0984/Sporting_Future_Strategy-_FINAL.pdf

[20]    Sport England, “Towards an active nation,” 2016. Available at: https://www.sportengland.org/active-nation/our-strategy/

[21]    Suffolk County Council, “Physical Activity Needs Assessment,” 2017. Available at: https://www.healthysuffolk.org.uk/jsna/jsna-lifestyle

[22]    Most Active County, “Making Suffolk England’s Most Active County.” [Online]. Available: https://www.mostactivecounty.com/

[23]    Sport England, “Active Lives Online tool,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://activelives.sportengland.org/.