By Sangeeta Waldron — The British Heart Foundation (BHF) warns that lack of exercise across the UK is costing the nation’s health system £1.2 billion a year.
Last year, Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, admitted that British taxpayers are spending more on treating obesity-related conditions than on the police or fire service. According to the BHF, women are 36% more likely than men to be physically inactive – 11.8 million women compared to 8.3 million men.
The worst area in Britain was the northwest of England, where 2.7 million people are physically inactive. The fittest place in the country is the southeast, where only 34% of adults don’t do enough physical activity. The charity defines ‘inactive’ as not accomplishing government guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week and strength activities at least two days a week.
Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour in the UK remain stubbornly high, and combined, these two risk factors present a threat to our cardiovascular health and risk of early death. The organisation reveals that 76% of people in England referred for cardiac rehabilitation after suffering a heart attack or undergoing heart surgery are considered physically inactive. It advocates regular exercise to reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35%, and risk of early death by 30%.
It’s troubling that around 40% of the NHS's workload is related to ‘modifiable health risk factors’, such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and lack of exercise. It spends around £16 billion a year on the direct medical costs of diabetes and conditions related to being overweight or obese.
Making physical activity easier and more accessible for all is critical, if we are to reduce the burden of inactivity-related ill health.
This is why BHF has launched the ‘MyMarathon’ challenge as a solution for people of all fitness levels to increase their physical activity and improve their heart health. Every pound raised will help fund vital research for this charity’s fight against heart disease. More than 30,000 people took part in MyMarathon last year, raising over £1million.
It’s not just the UK in trouble. Last year, a study of one million people found that physical inactivity costs the global economy $67.5 billion annually in healthcare and productivity losses. Dr. Mike Knapton, BHF’s Associate Medical Director, says, “Physical inactivity is one of the most significant global health crises of the moment.” This inactivity is estimated to cause more than 5 million deaths a year - almost as many as smoking, which the World Health Organisation says kills 6 million a year. The costs occur largely in wealthier countries, but as poorer countries develop, so too will the economic burden of chronic diseases linked to inactivity. It would just take an hour a day of exercise to reverse these costs and deaths.
Photo Credit: British Heart Foundation