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Why leisure industry professions are crucial in promoting active lifestyles

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Health and Wellbeing, Physical activity


How much difference can sport and leisure professionals make to our publics’ health?  The answer is a great deal.

The evidence base that physical activity is good for your health grows every week. Recent papers have highlighted the role it can play in reducing the risk of prostate cancer for men, adding to the list of conditions like dementia, diabetes, breast and bowel cancer and depression where it can make a real difference.

However, does everyone know this? Does everyone know how active they really need to be to get the best bang for their buck?

Many of us will find ourselves starting a new year with good intentions to do more exercise but everyday life can get in the way and it’s not uncommon for our resolutions to wane. This is where professional support can play a really important role.

One main focus for our Everybody Active Every Day framework is ‘Moving Professionals’ and is all about activating professionals from all sectors to help bring about radical change.

Sport and Leisure professionals are particularly well placed to help, both in leisure centres and sports clubs, as well as in parks and community halls.

Over half a million people work in the sports and leisure industry. This includes 30,000 professionally registered fitness professionals, 48 national governing bodies for sport and 176,000 sports businesses and organisations.

This is a huge network of people working in this specialist area who have the opportunity to make a real difference. But to encourage behavior change we need these experts to fully understand the ins and outs of physical activity and its health impacts.

It’s great that we are seeing more and more providers developing opportunities for gyms without walls, and taking the skills and expertise of their staff into the community to help bring outdoor gyms, football pitches and basketball courts to life.

Examples include Freedom Leisure in Guilford, and Adizone outdoor gyms in Hillingdon.

But it is easy to assume that sport and leisure professionals are trained in the science of behavior change and how best to support people taking the steps to more active lives. Of course many are, but in a lot of cases this knowledge base isn’t as developed as it could be.

BASES (British Association of Sports and Exercise Sciences) recommends that fitness professionals working with people as part of their clinical care should demonstrate competence by holding an appropriate qualification: Certified Exercise Practitioner (CEP), BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist or Chartered Scientist.

These qualifications verify the knowledge and skills to work across health service domains from public health/education and promotion, to primary and secondary prevention care and clinical research.

SkillsActive is the national agency supported by Government and the sport and leisure industry to support skills development and maintain the National Occupational Standards (NOS).

Personal instructors should have membership of a professional organisation, such as the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) or National Register of Personal Trainers (NRPT) as a way of demonstrating their competence and skills and ensuring the professional has gone through appropriate training and adheres to a National Occupational Standard.

The REP register has different levels which reflect the depth and breadth of the skills training.

Training fitness professionals in this area and developing more knowledge around the science of behaviour change could really help us make the shift from the physical inactivity epidemic we are currently in, to getting everybody active every day.

It would also improve support for people with disabilities or long term conditions getting into regular sport or fitness. Many of us, especially as we get a bit older, worry about pulling muscles or inflicting an injury and the guiding hand of a trained professional can be key to help us not only be safe, but also have more fun.

Supporting people to be active is fundamentally at the heart of what the sports and leisure industry does. Keeping people engaged and coming back for more is key to a healither and happier life, and will lead to success for both the industry and reduce the burden of disease on the NHS and social care.

Our aim at PHE is to get more people more active. We want to see a shift in attitudes towards physical activity, so it is no longer considered an effort, but the social norm.

Whether it’s walking, cycling, playing sport, going to the gym, or playing football in the park - it doesn’t matter how you enjoy being active, but it does matter that you are moving every day.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Bren posted on

    Hello Justin,

    I think the messages around physical activity and health have been long made, and I guess the gap is around the environment we create to get the people who are not active moving, as opposed to get the active people more active (which of course is important). Creating the environment for this is both an opportunity and a challenge. I think the key is it takes time and will be about sustaining the levels once increased.

    Bets wishes and thanks for the blog Justin,

    Best wishes,