Today I looked back at a piece that I wrote in 2014. It was all about adult physical inactivity, which seems very relevant given the situation that many have been in for the past 12 months.
In 2013 the All Party Commission on Physical Inactivity stated:
‘The UK faces an epidemic of physical inactivity. Over the last half century we have simply stopped moving—in our schools, our work places, our towns, cities—and how we get between them. In all human history, we have never been so inactive.’
The party’s first and only report goes on to list the cost of physical inactivity to health and the economy, because the two are inextricably linked.
Of course the problem starts in childhood where physical inactivity is leading to childhood obesity but adults are no better.
At the time nearly a quarter of all adults failed to achieve 30 mins activity over the course of a week so it’s no surprise then that heart disease, diabetes and mental health problems have all increased by 25% 45% costing the UK economy £20 billion per year.
The cost to business was put at nearly £6 billion per year through absenteeism and the associated costs of employees being off work through illness.
What was not fully measured or accounted for is the rate of decline in an individuals ability to perform at work as the effects of physical inactivity take hold. Mental ill health for example might impair a persons ability for months before reaching the point that they require treatment and time off.
The All Party Commission on Physical Inactivity (APCOPI) talks about the need for exercise at school and in April 2014 the government pledged £150m to help schools facilitate and embed physical activity but what about adults?
Those adults who are in their 40s and 50s probably did have plenty of exercise at school so whilst I understand the need to create a culture that encourages activity at en early age that is no guarantee that we’ll see a decline in any of the above mentioned diseases.
In its first report into the value of the natural environment in 2011 the government stated that looking after our ‘green space’ better would be worth £30 billion a year to the economy including health and wellbeing benefits. It also highlighted the loss of green space since the 1980s: 10,000 less playing fields, 90% decline in allotments. And it stated that failure to look after, improve and enhance our green spaces would cost us £20 billion a year. The very same figure that the APCOPI arrived at.
Could there be a link between green space and our health and wellbeing?
Dr William Bird certainly thinks so and has published numerous reports linking green space with increased physical activity and a decline in the diseases identified by APCOPI as being in the ascendency.
Proximity to green space is a factor as is the variation of habitat. The closer to green space we live the more likely we are to get out and visit it. The more interesting the space is the more we will visit it. This means that a patch of grass is somewhere we will go but if it also has trees, shrubs, ponds, birds and other wildlife, we will visit more frequently.
To me that sounds very logical and ties in with the 2011 report that stated better green spaces would have result in an economic return. Therefore, investment in green spaces would pay for itself by reducing the healthcare costs associated with illness as a result of physical inactivity and save businesses the known and unknown costs of employees becoming ill and needing time off.
We all work much harder and unfortunately we only measure success on the wealth of businesses and individuals. We see it as shame that heart disease and mental health are on the rise but we don’t knock anything off the ‘bottom line’ to reflect this failure in society.
Are we going to work less? Probably not so we really do need to address the problem of physical inactivity and it seems to me that more, better and bigger green space is required if we are to give hard working people a chance to relax and exercise. It’s also no coincide that ‘more, better and bigger’ was the plea from the Lawton Report: Making Space for Nature.
You see we are connected to nature, however cynical you may be. The more ‘natural’ the environment, the more we’ll benefit from it and looking at the figures being stated I would say that an investment in the natural environment will not only pay for itself, they’ll also be big fat bonuses as well.