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A new resource pack to help healthcare professionals and organisations support people with long term health conditions to be active has been launched.

Michelle Roberts, Physical Activity and Health Programme Lead, explains: 

  • 43% of the adult population in England live with at least one long term condition including 25% of the NHS workforce and potentially 15- 30% live with more than two, according to various sources. 
  • People with long term conditions account for 50% of GP appointments, 64% of outpatient appointments and 70% of all inpatient bed days. The current absence rate in the NHS is 5.7% largely owing to stress and mental health problems as well as musculoskeletal conditions. 
  • Physical activity has been shown to benefit the mental and physical health of people living with a long term health condition, supporting self-management, increasing reconditioning, and improving quality of life and sleep. 
  • People with long term health conditions are twice as likely to be inactive as people without conditions and within the NHS workforce, 30% are inactive.  

New Physical Activity and Long Term Health Conditions Resource Packs 

Physical activity has been described by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges as a ‘miracle cure’ and yet even before the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of inactive adults with health conditions (those not undertaking 30 minutes of activity in a week) were missing out on the physical and mental health benefits that increasing their physical activity could bring them. Scroll forward through two years of lockdown restrictions which have added yet another barrier to physical activity, and we know that many people with long term conditions have seen a deterioration in their physical and mental health as well as strength and fitness. Whilst the barriers people face affect them uniquely (fear of making conditions worse and lack of motivation cited most often) there is undoubtedly also an interplay with a range of systemic barriers.  

One such barrier is that within the health and care system physical activity is being under-utilised and promoted as a tool for people to support their self-management and quality of life. Despite the benefits of physical activity being widely acknowledged and evidenced (there is a long list of NICE guidelines and quality standards that recommend promoting physical activity using behaviour change approaches), and there being medical consensus on the safety of physical activity, it is still not being routinely encouraged by professionals as part of person-centred conversations with patients. Our research suggests that 57% of people with long term conditions look to the NHS for advice on being active, which suggests there is an opportunity to support people in their self-management alongside other treatments and tools. Doing so could have potential gains for professionals looking to reduce appointments and waiting lists for care, pressing issues at any time, but particularly so at the moment.  

Another barrier is that the sport and physical activity sector has been on a long journey to improve it’s accessibility and inclusivity; research suggests that disabled adults are much more likely to report being limited in leisure activities (27.9%) than non-disabled people (2.8%). I think it’s fair to say that there’s still a way to go with this challenge as Sport England have put tackling inequality at the heart of its new 10-year strategy.    

So what are we as a group of charities doing about this? As part of our commitment to reduce physical inactivity amongst people with (multiple) long term health conditions we’re taking a two-pronged approach to addressing the barriers our audience face, working in collaboration with our partners Mind, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK and Sport England.  

First off, for the last three years we’ve been leading the charge to support people with long term conditions to be active in a way that works for them through the launch and ongoing promotion of We Are Undefeatable, a physical activity campaign, funded by the National Lottery, based on real stories and with audience-tested tools. The campaign has featured on TV, radio, social media and on the ground in targeted locations and been successful at being relatable for people with long term conditions as well as starting the process of change about how we talk about being active.  

Now we’re turning our attention to our colleagues across the sport and physical activity sector and health and care sector and how we can work together to address some of the systemic barriers that persist. To help us to do this we’ve developed three bespoke Physical Activity and Long Term Health Conditions Resource Packs aimed at the health and care workforce, health and care organisations, and the sport and physical activity sector.  

The aim of the packs is to dispel myths about physical activity, highlight the key benefits of promoting physical activity, provide a resource hub of support tools and showcase some tangible examples of how other people and organisations have made changes in practice that have supported people with multiple health conditions to move more. The packs also set out some suggestions for how we can bring about change: 

  • Prioritise physical activity: the health and care sector to make promotion of physical activity for people living with (multiple) long term health conditions a priority, whilst committing to engage with people living with long term health conditions in the development of pathways, services and support. 
  • Talk to patients about physical activity or enable those conversations: health and care organisations and workforce embedding physical activity conversations into routine practice to maximise all opportunities to promote physical activity and especially signpost to helpful tailored resources such as the We Are Undefeatable campaign which has lots of free tips and support. 
  • Champion physical activity: health and care sector professionals providing leadership across  organisations and within the sector by advocating physical activity, encouraging colleagues to do the same and promoting ongoing learning and development. 
  • Support workforce wellbeing/consider own activity: health and care colleagues living with long term health conditions should be encouraged to prioritise self-care and think about ways that suit them to be active as well as encouraging others. Try We Are Undefeatable for ideas and tips. 
  • Prioritise inclusive activity: ensuring people with long term conditions are a core audience for the sport and physical activity sector; that they’re involved in the design, delivery and review of services; that communications and marketing are inclusive and facilities and services are accessible.  

As the health and care sector and sport and physical activity sector look to recover following COVID-19 the time feels right to take another look at that ‘miracle cure’ and how we can use this opportunity to prioritise physical activity for health and make it easier for people with multiple health conditions to be active. For help with information and ideas about what you can do to make a difference check out our Physical Activity and Long Term Health Conditions Resource Packs.  

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