Promoting active lifestyles can help us address some of the important challenges facing the UK today. Increasing physical activity has the potential to improve the physical and mental health of the nation, reduce all-cause mortality and improve life expectancy. It can also save money by significantly easing the burden of chronic disease on the health and social care services. Increasing cycling and walking will reduce transport costs, save money and help the environment. Fewer car journeys can reduce traffic, congestion and pollution, improving the health of communities.
Other potential benefits linked to physical activity in children and young people include the acquisition of social skills through active play (leadership, teamwork and co-operation), better concentration in school and displacement of anti-social and criminal behaviour. The importance of physical activity for health was identified over 50 years ago. During the 1950s, comparisons of bus drivers with more physically active bus conductors and office-based telephonists with more physically active postmen demonstrated lower rates of coronary heart disease and smaller uniform sizes in the more physically active occupations.
This research led the way for further investigation, and evidence now clearly shows the importance of physical activity in preventing ill health. It is important for us to be active throughout our lives. Physical activity is central to a baby’s normal growth and development. This continues through school, and into adulthood and older years. Being physically active can bring substantial benefits and there is consistent evidence of a dose–response relationship, i.e. the greater the volume of physical activity undertaken, the greater the health benefits that are obtained.
This report emphasises the importance of physical activity for individuals of all ages and, for the first time, provides specific guidelines for those aged under 5 and older adults. Building upon the emerging evidence base, we are also recommending that individuals should minimise sedentary behaviour (e.g. sitting for long periods) which is now recognised as an independent risk factor for ill health.
Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement and Protection.