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Bringing Sheffield together to move more

Are you sitting comfortably?

Maybe you are reading this at your desk. Maybe on a train or bus. Wherever you are, if you’re sitting down, you're doing something that could be considered dangerous. Increasingly, it appears, sitting is a killer.

According to research published by the University of Cambridge in 2015, physical inactivity is twice as deadly as obesity. Activity is in decline: a third of the population do less than 5 minutes of physical activity a day.

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University are tackling this major risk to public health, with a groundbreaking approach which is getting impressive results and influencing national policy.

Move More

As part of the legacy work following the London Olympics, the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine was set up to promote health and wellbeing, with Sheffield one of three founding partners (along with East Midlands and London).

The Move More campaign in Sheffield is being led by a team at the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science. They brought together people from 64 organisations involved in physical activity, and spoke to communities, academics and policymakers.

All this preparation helped create one of the most evidence-based public health campaigns in the UK, representing the very latest thinking on physical activity.

Working with communities

Dr Rob Copeland explains, 'We want to make Sheffield the most active city in the UK by 2020. We have developed an approach which is all about growing change from the bottom up. So we've been speaking to communities and finding the things people are passionate about.'

This has led to some surprising interventions.

'We spoke to people who wanted to reduce crime in their local area, increase places where they can grow food or improve the look and feel of their streets. These kinds of interventions might not be directly related to physical activity, but as a result people move around more, they walk more, and it’s more effective than simply telling someone to go to the gym.

'At the same-time we are looking at how we can help to make the streets safer places for people to walk and cycle, create closed play streets and develop mass participation events where whole neighbourhoods can join in'.

The team have also used £10m of funding from the national centre to locate NHS clinics in the heart of communities with low levels of physical activity and help enhance existing exercise on referral programmes such as 'Miracle Cure', which is making a huge difference to hundreds of people.

People like Derick Wilks from Grimethorpe. Derick had arthritis and was unable to work, when he read about a GP referral scheme at his local sports centre.

'I tended to just sit in the house and mope about,' he says. 'Having arthritis knocks you back. It’s a horrible feeling watching your wife go out to work and thinking it should be you doing that.'

As part of the scheme, Derick began a 12-week programme at the gym on a reduced rate, with life-changing results.

He says, 'Exercise doesn’t cure arthritis completely but now I can go in the garden without suffering back pain, I go for walks by the canal for an hour, and I’m more confident because I look smarter. I would encourage anyone with arthritis to do exercise because it really does help, especially if you lose a bit of weight.'

Working together to tackle inactivity

The success of the project is due to bringing people together, from medical professionals to local organisations.

'It’s about connecting things up,' says Rob. 'One of the biggest things we've done is for the first time bring 11 organisations together and say "We all have an influence on this. Let’s work together." We have a central vision to make Sheffield the most active city by 2020.'

The approach has yielded impressive results. The latest data shows that Sheffield has seen the second fastest increase in physical activity in the region – above the national average, and one of only two cities showing an increase.

The team's work has also directly influenced national policy. Rob was invited to be on an expert panel for Public Health England to share the work of the team in Sheffield on a national level.

'We're starting to become the go-to place now around physical activity and evidence,' he says. 'At the University we understand how to look at the whole system. We're designing programmes, evaluating programmes, bringing people together around a central vision. It’s great to be involved with and is thanks to the hard work of lots of dedicated people across Sheffield – not just here at the University.'

And behind the statistics lie people like Chapeltown resident Yvonne Grice. After a heart attack, Yvonne has been encouraged back into the gym by the Move More project.

'The scheme has been brilliant,' she says. 'Everyone is so friendly and supportive and there’s a real social atmosphere. Exercise has made such a difference to my life. I feel so much better. It’s a part of my weekly routine and once I get going I could carry on working out all day!'

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