Inactivity crisis? You can Be Active in Birmingham

By on 09/05/2014 in Blog

With physical inactivity constantly in the news, Head of Community Sport and Healthy Lifestyles, Karen Creavin, reflects on Birmingham’s response to the crisis.

We hear lots about obesity but reports today have highlighted another crisis: Inactivity.

Research in Australia has shown that sedentary lifestyles pose a greater heart disease risk to women over 30 than smoking, obesity or high blood pressure.

The report claims that the dangers of an inactive lifestyle are being underestimated and must be a much higher public health priority.

Here in Birmingham we recognised the dangers of inactivity back in 2008 when Gym for Free – a pilot scheme for our award-winning Be Active initiative – was launched in Ladywood.

Gym for Free offered free swimming, fitness classes, and gym sessions to all of the residents as long as they exercised at least 4 times per month. There was no upper limit to the number of times they could attend exercise sessions and the only other criteria was residency within the constituency.

The scheme proved to be a huge success, attracting over 7,000 members in just six months and a year later, Be Active was rolled out to the rest of the city, with 1.1 million people given access to the scheme.

The new city-wide scheme aimed to:

  • Increase the number of people who are regularly active
  • Improve mental and physical health
  • Promote healthy eating
  • Reduce early death and disability
  • Provide opportunities for employment, volunteering and youth inclusion

Six years on from the Ladywood pilot, we have over 410,000 people registered on the scheme – many of whom are enjoying regular physical activity FREE of charge.

So does it work?

  • A University of Birmingham (2011) evaluation showed 20% of all members previously totally inactive.
  • 89% of these increased their activity levels to moderately or very active over 3 months.
  • 40% of members had lower than recommended physical activity levels at baseline, of whom 70% increased their activity levels to recommended levels over 3 months.
  • Higher levels of physical activity at follow up were related to lower levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Bearing in mind today’s headlines about women over 30, there’s nearly an equal split between men and women in terms of the take up of the scheme. Traditionally hard to reach groups, such as Bangladeshi and Pakistani women, are well represented and attendances span all age groups.

But Be Active is not for everyone. For some people the very thought of visiting a gym or traditional leisure centre environment is a terrifying concept.

So last year we identified a new secret weapon in the battle against obesity and inactivity: the city’s 600 parks and open spaces.

With the support of Birmingham Sport and Physical Activity Partnership, we launched Active Parks – a groundbreaking pilot project looking at the role the city’s open spaces can play in helping lead fitter, healthier lives.

We worked with Sport England to assess the success of ‘Active Parks’ at five sites:

  • Cotteridge Park
  • Walkers Heath Park
  • Moonlit & Sunset Parks
  • Holders Lane Fields
  • Ward End Park

Visitors to the five sites were offered a wide range of free activities, including:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Tai Chi
  • Park Fit
  • Bushcraft
  • Gardening
  • Buggyfit
  • Netball
  • Rounders
  • Walking

The pilot project has proved to be hugely popular, with user feedback highlighting a number of positives, including:

  • Active Parks helps families exercise together.
  • It appeals to all ages.
  • People who do not traditionally access leisure facilities are more likely to stay active in parks and open spaces.
  • The project changes people’s perceptions of where they can be active
  • People attending for exercise are going on to volunteer, becoming active members of the community.

Active Parks is now expanding to more sites across the city and the activities on offer will continue to evolve.

It’s another example of how we’re working to remove the barriers to physical activity in this city.

Today’s media reports should come as no real surprise. Inactivity continues to limit the lives of far too many people. But here in Birmingham there are opportunities and the first thing I would urge everyone to do is sign-up for Be Active or Active Parks and join the thousands of Brummies who are fighting back against inactivity.

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