Why getting active matters

A brief overview of the impacts of physical activity and sedentary behaviour on health. For more information see our resources section.

"There is no point in life where doing more exercise does not improve health in multiple ways.”

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, 2020

Physical activity

Getting – and staying - active is critical in the primary and secondary prevention of over 20 chronic conditions, but approximately 34% of men and 42% of women in the UK are not active enough for good health. Physical inactivity is understood to be responsible for 1 in every 6 UK deaths and up to 40% of long-term conditions could be prevented if everyone met the UK Chief Medical Officer’s physical activity recommendations.

Of particular concern are the 27% of the population classified as ‘inactive’, meaning they do less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (such as walking) per week. 33% of children do less than half the recommended physical activity for their age. Inactive people are at high risk of developing long-term health conditions, a situation that is worsened by the fact that when they develop illness they generally become even less active. In children and young people physical activity plays an important role in preventing the onset of mental health illness and improves the physical and mental wellbeing in children with long-term conditions.

The cost to the health service is £0.9 billion annually, with the estimated cost to the UK being £7.4 billion. The impact of physical activity on our health is significant, yet we are expected to be 35% less active in 2030 than we were in 1960 based on current trends.

The evidence is clear – physical inactivity is a major risk factor for ill-health and physical activity is protective and preventative for all of us – young, old, well or with long-term conditions. The very modest risks are far outweighed by the benefits, and GPs and their teams are ideally placed to lead by example in their communities, and have conversations about physical activity with all of their patients.

Key reference: Physical activity: applying All Our Health