When I first encountered National Fitness Day its fair to say I was somewhat cynical…a national campaigning day to promote fitness and exercise rather than the more embracing language of physical activity, and driven primarily by the leisure and fitness industry, but I think I have been won around as those of you who follow me on twitter will have seen!
We have a long way to go to get everybody active every day not just in England but across the World – as the latest data reports from WHO demonstrate. Inactivity is very much a symptom of modern society and as more and more low and middle income countries shift their economic basis from manual labour to tech enabled services with more affordable transport, unless something fundamentally changes the world is doomed to become even more inactive with the subsequent health burdens at individual, community, national and global levels.
Back in 2011 the ISPAH briefing on Investments that Work for Physical Activity set out 8 best buys for Physical Activity which included ‘5. Public education, including mass media, to raise awareness and change social norms on physical activity.’
The narrative that said public education was reiterated in the national framework to address physical inactivity in England, Everybody Active, Every Day in 2014, which set out an entire domain of action focused on refocusing social norms for physical activity through social marketing, leadership and public education. Similar recognition of the need for public campaigns were reiterated in Sport England Toward’s An Active Nation. And most recently reiterated in the WHO Global Action Plan for Physical Activity.
So what changed my mind about National Fitness Day?
Well although I recognise there are many different campaigns on physical activity currently, to name just a few in the UK:
- This Girl Can
- One You
- National Walking Month
- Cycle to Work Day
- Love Activity, Hate Exercise
- Walk & Cycle to Work Week
There are many different ways that individuals choose to get physically activity and although sport and fitness may only contribute to a fraction of an individuals weekly physical activity, it can be an inspiring fraction that gives social connection, aspiration, empowerment and engagement as well as physical activity.
One of the great things that has evolved through National Fitness Day is the way sport and leisure providers have used it as a call to action to develop more inclusive offers and stepped outside of their physical buildings and spaces to engage different communities and demonstrate their offer is inclusive and engaging to different audiences.
Now the cynic in me says this is all a ploy to recruit more members – but to be honest, does that matter if the leisure provider or sports club is going to engage in supporting these new members to use their facilities and be more active every day? I’m not sure it does…..
Across the country providers are offering free classes and taster sessions with a veritable smorgasbord of opportunities and it’s great to see the big gym chains putting their commitment in with free classes and access to allow people to step inside and see what the reality is really like rather than the sometimes overly body beautiful adverts.
There is definitely more that could be done in future years to really target that offer at those furthest from regular activity and really demonstrate that the leisure offer of today is for everyone, not just those who are already fit and healthy.
As someone who personally has had an intermittent relationship with a gym I know there is a huge variation in the culture and customer experience in different clubs and spaces, even within the same chain. Some of that is generated by the provider and the offer and some by the core customers in different locations. So the opportunity for people to have some experience of what goes on beyond the turnstile shouldn’t be under-estimated as helping to break down the barriers, provide more of a try before you buy opportunity and find the right fit for each individual that is likely to last beyond that initial week or month.
Fundamentally as a campaign it is another opportunity to have a population level conversation about physical activity which can’t be a bad thing. Therefore I encourage all of us to get behind it and use it as an opportunity to amplify the message that everyone, of every ability, every age, every day should get active.