This statement instinctively feels right. After all, what could be better for you than fresh air, exercise, teamwork, nature, camaraderie?
But where is the evidence that underpins that feeling? We can claim that physical activity improves health, helps educational attainment and brings communities closer but can we support that claim? The answer is in these pages. The Game of Life brings together, for the first time, all of the best evidence to support those gut feelings
we have about sport. But it is also even-handed, pointing out where the evidence is patchy or where
more research is required.
In many cases the evidence proves the point outright; in others it points the way towards an answer without establishing it conclusively.
Put together, however, the case for leading a more active lifestyle is compelling – both personally and societally.
We are all aware of some of the potential problems looming like storm clouds over the UK. We know, for example, that there is an obesity crisis and that modern sedentary lifestyles are causing untold stresses on the NHS and society. We know that cardiovascular disease costs the UK economy over £30 billion per year and diabetes costs £9 billion.
Mental health problems cost the care system £21 billion and costs UK businesses £30 billion in sick leave absence and unemployment costs. Dementia costs society £23 billion per year and offending by young people costs £11 billion per year. All of these costs are rising and there is a consensus that our economy cannot continue to carry their burden.
Sport and recreation are not a panacea, but as this evidence volubly demonstrates, it can certainly be a significant part of the solution. This research outlines the evidence that exists that shows how more activity can have huge effects on our society.
Burning 2000 kcal per week reduces coronary mortality by between a quarter and a third. For every 500 kcal of extra energy spent per week, your likelihood of type 2 diabetes is 6% lower. Exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for those with mild clinical depression. Elderly people with low physical activity levels have more than twice the risk of Alzheimer’s. And at the other end of life, seven out of ten teenagers believe that
antisocial behaviour occurs because they are bored.
For years interested parties have asked for a more joined-up approach to sport and recreation policy within Government, but such a coordinated approach has always been considered difficult to implement. However, if the evidence in this paper points to one thing, it is surely that coordinating the role of sport throughout Government departments should be moved from the “too hard to do” folder to the “too expensive to ignore”. Politicians can no longer afford to ignore the magic bullet that sport and recreation provides to our policy-makers.
Whilst the evidence supporting change is clear, we don’t underestimate the challenge of changing people’s habits. Getting those in a habitual sedentary lifestyle to be more active is much easier said than done. The good news is that the research shows that there is a dose-based response to physical activity. In other words, even if you do just a little exercise, you will get some benefit, and the more you do, the bigger the improvement. Being overweight can ironically make exercise more effective and getting moving at any level helps.
What will also come as no surprise is that prevention is far better than cure and that habits developed when you are young tend to ingrain themselves. Studies in Scandinavia have shown that boys and girls who were active every day at the age of 14 are respectively four and three times more likely to be active at the age of 31 – a
huge impact. Membership of a sports club also increased the likelihood of being active later in life
and being part of a sports club also increases the likelihood of being active citizens – 81% of sports club members establish new relationships in the community compared to only 14% of gym users.
So the message is simple: we need to encourage people to be more active and to be more active from an earlier age. The Government’s current emphasis on youth sport and school club links moves us in the right direction, but too slowly. Children younger than this target age group should be doing quality sport at school and teachers should be aiming to provide activities every day to ingrain good habits. Sports clubs should be playing
an integral role in this provision because of the other benefits the evidence tells us they provide. And national governing bodies of sport and recreation are in the perfect place to deliver their activities through clubs if the Government ensures that this is their priority.