Hannah, a research assistant at the Young Foundation, is about to run her first London Marathon. For the past few weeks she’s been waking up at 7am on a Saturday to the prospect of a 20-mile practice run. Quite frankly, the details I’ve heard over lunch about her punishing training schedule are enough to make me break into a cold sweat. The words “never again” have passed her lips on more than one occasion over our sandwiches.
As thousands like Hannah push themselves towards the finishing line this Sunday (13th April), the Parliamentary Commission on Physical Activity, supported by the Young Foundation, has released a new report calling for a national plan of action to get us all moving more.
This is great news for people like me (who will probably never run a marathon) and people like Hannah (who will probably never do it again). The report emphasises that physical activity is not about an – undoubtedly monumental – one-off achievement like running a marathon, but about moving more throughout the day, throughout our lives. It’s about a widespread, radical shift that needs to be created by local and national government, the public, private and third sectors, and us as individuals. It’s about having physical activity ingrained in our daily lives. It’s about Hannah and me taking our sandwiches away from our desks and going for a lunchtime walk instead. Or using the stairs instead of the escalator when we dash for the Tube (or at least walking up the escalator rather than standing).
Physical activity reduces the risk of mortality by 30 per cent and of dementia by up to 45 per cent. It can make us better off physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and even financially. All of this comes in the context of a frightening drop in physical activity levels: We’re now 24 per cent less active than we were in 1961. The report (called Tackling Physical Inactivity: A Coordinated Approach), is being delivered to the prime minister at Downing Street today (8th April) by the report’s authors and a coalition of physical activity champions, including the Young Foundation.
In response to the commission, the Young Foundation is also backing a new online platform called MOVE1, to give parents inspiration about how to make simple changes to keep their children active.
It’s good to know that, in between the extremes of being a coach potato and being a marathon runner, there’s a lot of room for manoeuvre.