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By Medicines Discovery Catapult

Millions struggle to walk up a single flight of stairs – why the CMO's physical activity guidelines need to change focus

Slimming World

4 min read Partner content

- CMO's physical activity guidelines say people should aim to be active for at least 150 minutes each week – yet only 6% of men and 4% of women reach this target

- Two thirds of the UK’s 50m+ adults have an overweight BMI, which could be making getting physically active more difficult

- 1 in 3 overweight people feel running 100m without stopping is 'difficult or impossible', and 1 in 10 feel same way about walking up a single flight of stairs, new stats show*

- Experts say current CMO guidelines are 'intimidating' for many and main message should have a twin focus (1) to reduce time spent sitting down (2) to recognise that ALL increases in activity are beneficial, no matter what a person’s starting point

The government’s physical activity guidelines[1] risk intimidating a population that struggles to meet modest activity targets like walking up a flight of stairs and so the emphasis should be changed, experts in behaviour change have warned.

The call was issued by Slimming World on National Fitness Day (7th September) after new stats revealed that one in 10 overweight people feel they would find it difficult or impossible to walk up a single flight of stairs and one in three would struggle to run 100 metres without stopping*.

The government’s current physical activity guidelines lead with a message encouraging people to aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Yet while this message is relatively well-known, tests carried out for the NHS[2] show that only 6% of men and 4% of women actually meet these targets.

To tackle this, Slimming World is calling for the government to make its sub-message that adults should ‘spend less time sitting down’ more central to its recommendations, while also encouraging people to recognise that no matter what their current activity level is, any increase is beneficial as they look to build up to 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.

“While the gold standard for good health is 150 minutes of activity each week, for millions of people who currently do little or no activity, that target will seem out of reach and unachievable,” says Dr Jacquie Lavin, Slimming World Head of Nutrition and Research.

“People who struggle with weight – that’s now around two in every three people – can often have negative memories of physical activity from school or childhood. In cases like those, it’s far more important to help people take the first steps to a more active lifestyle by taking the threat out of activity, starting small and building up from there.

“That’s how Slimming World’s Body Magic physical activity programme works and two-thirds of our members say they have become more active as a result.

“Simply standing up more helps lower the risk of poor health and research shows that even an extra 30 minutes per day on your feet could help you burn off significantly more energy – enough to lose around 5lbs in a year. And if you can turn that standing into moving more, then the health benefits will be even bigger.

“The fact that so few people meet the current guidelines and millions of people struggle with even modest levels of activity shows that the current guidance isn’t working.

“Spending lots of time sitting down can increase our risk of a range of conditions including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and can increase a person’s chances of struggling with their weight.

“We’d like to see the government address this by changing the focus of their guidelines to encourage more people out of their seats and thinking about how they can increase the amount of time they spend being active too. As they build their confidence and fitness, that’s the time to bring in the 150 minutes per week message.”


* The survey of 2,038 people with a BMI of 25kg/m², conducted with Ipsos MORI, found that the following proportion of people would find it difficult, very difficult or impossible to complete a number of activity tasks.

  *   33% - run 100m without stopping
  *   10% - walk 100m without feeling out of breath
  *   47% - play football for 45 minutes
  *   8% - tie own shoelaces
  *   42% - do 10 press-ups
  *   28% - swim four lengths of a standard swimming pool
  *   9% - walk up a single flight of stairs
  *   17% - cycle for 15 minutes
  *   46% - do a ‘pull-up’




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