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Do we need a new strategy for encouraging physical activity in our patients?

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

In Lifestyle Medicine encouraging physical activity is a key component. However, it is well known that people are simply not moving enough (are you?). So do we need a new strategy for encouraging physical activity in our patients?

Do your patients tell you they have no time for exercise, so you don't like to recommend it anymore?

Maybe our whole approach is wrong and we need to go back to our childhood to find the solutions. Could the answer simply be that many of us think of exercise as a boring chore?


Darryl Edwards is a module contributor to our new course 'Lifestyle Medicine in Clinical Practice'. He has an innovative solution to the problem of "Why working out isn't working out" which he discusses in his TED talk which has been viewed over 600,000 times!

Darryl is a Movement Coach, Author, Founder of Primal Play, Health and Play Researcher and regularly presents at clinical events worldwide.


Even though the benefits of physical activity are well known, the majority, 65% of UK adults, are not meeting physical activity guidelines. When wearing an accelerometer to investigate this in more depth, studies have shown only 5% of UK adults meet the UK activity guidelines. This is worrying and you may be thinking 'am I in the 5% or the 95%?'.

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) physical activity guidelines launched in September 2019, the CMOs reiterated a clear message about physical activity:

“If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat.”

Here is a reminder of just some of the many benefits of physical activity which extend well beyond tackling obesity.


Better known benefits:

Reduced blood pressure

Improved metabolic health

Improved mood

Stress reduction

Sleep improvement

A sense of community

Develops leadership and mentoring skills

Connecting with others and building friendships

A knock on effect of improving diet


Less well known benefits:

Reduction in chronic inflammation - which is implicated in the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, T2DM and cancer.

Improved gut microbial diversity, independent of diet

Improved insulin sensitivity

Reductions in LDL and TG and an increase in HDL

Protection against cognitive decline


So given all these benefits, why are physical activity levels so low?

Is it because people find exercise boring, or difficult to do? The solution could be that we need a different approach to movement, an approach where our gym is the world around us and our fitness buddies are our children, friends and family.

Try it out now; ask someone in your family or bubble to play a game with you - for example, an imaginary game of tennis. Go for it and try and beat them! This model of physical activity through play is what Darryl discusses in more depth as a tool to encourage physical activity.

The RCGP and parkrun UK also launched the parkrun practice initiative in June 2018 (prior to lockdown) which was a fun way to get more active. GP's would join a local Parkrun and become a parkrun practice. There were additional benefits to running or walking! For example; supporting the community, encouraging their own staff to join in and and a great way to socialise on a Saturday morning as a practice. Our practice in Leeds at One Medical Group joined in this as runners and volunteers, and it was great fun.

Parkrun might be off now, but despite lockdown we can still find solutions to be more active in a fun way, and Darryl gives many ideas for this, checkout his website.


So what about physical activity during COVID-19?

Exercise improves host innate immunity and affords protection to viral infections. With social distancing restrictions in place, and crowded parks, many people people are afraid to leave the home. However, we do need to think about improving host immunity via physical activity. Exercise has a hugely beneficial impact on the normal functioning of the immune system, which is well documented. We do not yet have scientific data specific to the novel coronavirus, however, the available evidence indicates that exercise can protect us from many other viral infections including influenza, rhinovirus and herpesviruses. (1)


There is more detailed evidence-based information on this topic and others, for healthcare professionals in our new course 'Lifestyle Medicine in Clinical Practice' which amongst other informative modules contains a module on 'Physical Activity through Active Play'.


(1) Ranasinghe C, Ozemek C, Arena R. Exercise and well-being during COVID 19 - time to boost your immunity. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2020 Dec;18(12):1195-1200. doi: 10.1080/14787210.2020.1794818. Epub 2020 Jul 23. PMID: 32662717.


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