‘Be Active, Be Healthy’ is the government's new strategy to get the nation’s couch potatoes off their sofas. We look at some of the key measures, and get tips on how to motivate ourselves to be more active from behaviour expert Judi James.
Obesity is responsible for 9,000 premature deaths each year in England, say health officials. Encouraging people to become more active is a key plank of the Change4Life campaign, which aims to bring about a ‘lifestyle revolution’ to tackle obesity.
According to Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo, "Physical activity is the key to stopping this country becoming the obesity capital of the world."
She adds, "We have to remove the 'no, you can't' messages across communities to create a 'yes, you can' culture, with more support, more encouragement and more opportunities across communities to get people active."
Official figures show that more than 27 million adults in England are not getting enough exercise, and 14 million fail to complete 30 minutes a week. The Chief Medical Officer says that, if people who are currently sedentary did the recommended level of physical activity each week, around 9 per cent of deaths could be avoided, including more than one-third of deaths from coronary heart disease.
The official recommendation for adults is 30 minutes of ‘moderate’ physical activity, five days a week. ‘Moderate’ physical activity is exercise that increases the heart rate and causes us to feel slightly warm and breathe a bit heavier.
'Be active, be Healthy'
The government aims to get 2 million more people active by the time the Olympic Games comes to London. However, you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy sport and receive significant benefits to your health, says Minister for the Olympics Tessa Jowell: "By doing small amounts of physical activity, you can greatly improve your quality of life."
The ‘Be Active, Be Healthy’ plan outlines a range of physical activity and sports programmes to get more people active. Local councils and primary care trusts will be introducing a range of new initiatives to get local populations engaged in physical activities such as swimming, dancing, cycling and walking.
Key measures of the strategy include:
- a Learn to Swim programme for adults, which forms part of the government's Free Swimming scheme with the Amateur Swimming Association and Sport England, targeting non- or lapsed swimmers;
- a working group to explore how all generations can get active through dance –‘harnessing the Strictly Come Dancing fever that has swept the nation’;
- a total of 2,012 Active Challenge walking routes across England with Walk England to mark the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games;
- expansion of the Walking the Way to Health scheme, which supports over 538 local health walk schemes.
Local councils can provide details of ‘Be Active, Be Healthy’ initiatives and events in your own area, including the free swimming lessons for under-16s and adults aged 60 upwards that came into effect on April 1.
With the recession putting pressure on our leisure budgets, many of us have more time on our hands, so it makes both economic and health sense to take advantage of free opportunities to get out and about in our local communities and have fun while getting fit.
According to Phil Gray, chief executive at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, "Finding a form of physical activity that's both enjoyable and convenient is key to increasing the amount of exercise people undertake in the long term. By improving opportunities and access to exercise locally, many more people should improve their fitness and health."
Judi James has some tips to help you find the willpower to start becoming more active, and motivational techniques to keep you going when your initial enthusiasm flags:
- Plan before you start. Tell yourself why you're getting fit and what you will be achieving, like flexibility, better health and a longer life. Draw a sloping line on a page and write all your goals at the end. Then log all the possible setbacks en route, like boredom, tiredness, parties or long hours at work, and plan steps you will take to motivate yourself to overcome these obstacles.
- Bite-sized chunks. If the size of the task sends you crawling back to the sofa, try to ignore the overall challenge to get fit and apply yourself to bite-size chunks instead – like walking up stairs, bopping round the kitchen or playing outside with the kids. Never see it as an ‘all-or-nothing’ lifestyle change.
- Double-up. Self-motivation is harder than coaching someone else. Pick a get-fit buddy (such as your partner, kids or a neighbour) and set yourself the task of motivating one another. Think sports coach rather than nag, though; you want to end up energising, not arguing!
- Goals and rewards. Make a list of all your favourite couch-potato treats, like TV shows or computer games, and turn them into rewards to be worked for, rather than part of your daily routine. The brain loves to work towards specific goals, so if the thought of half an hour of EastEnders gets you down the local pool, then go for it!
- Do things you enjoy. Being active doesn’t have to mean going for the burn down the gym or suffering your way through early-morning jogs. The more you can link activities into the kinds of things you naturally enjoy, like dancing or shopping, the more likely you are to stick with them.
- Role models. Pick some psychological heroes as your role models. Sticking photos of skinny supermodels or athletes with six-packs all over your fridge is likely to get you calling ‘quit’ faster than anything else. Instead, read about or focus on people who have overcome hardships through sheer grit and determination – it will give your brain the ability to reboot when your body’s trying to give up.
- Leader voice. Always remember you are your own worst enemy when it comes to getting out there and getting stuck into some exercise. That voice in your head will give you 1,001 de-motivational messages if you let it, coming up with possible ‘sick notes’ like ‘Why bother?’, ‘It's raining’, ‘I'll start next week’ etc. Take control! Create your own ‘leader voice’, which means the motivational voice you intend listening to. Make it firm and loud, with messages like ‘Get going!’, ‘Up and out!’ and ‘Do it now!’.