Home Lifestyle Olympic Gold-winner James Cracknell shares manifesto to get Britain moving again

Olympic Gold-winner James Cracknell shares manifesto to get Britain moving again

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James Cracknell and his kids enjoy the outdoors with Vauxhall

But 2020 was seemingly only good for one thing – new words and phrases entering the vernacular such as R Value, coronavirus and Covid-19, which are all now part of our lexicon. Those words are here to stay, but their legacy we can fight. The UK is one of more than 100 countries to have enforced social distancing, more commonly known as lockdown, to reduce the rate of viral transmission. The severity of lockdown varied in speed of implementation, duration and intensity from country to country and even region to region.

Lockdowns succeeded in lowering the R Value, but have also impacted on people’s work, education, travel, physical activity, sedentary behaviours, mental wellbeing and recreation.

They have affected every aspect of our lives, but arguably none greater than our metabolic health. Now, as World Obesity Day pointed out last Thursday, both the Government, and we as individuals, need to prioritise physical activity to boost our health and immune system.

We need to do this to recover from this pandemic, resume normal life and be ready to combat the next airborne virus that is heading our way.

The ubiquitous phrase “we’re all in this together” is only partly true. Lockdown effects have been felt from kids through to the elderly, salaried, self-employed and principal carers.

But the financial consequences and impact on physical activity – and therefore health – have not been uniform across demographic or gender lines.

This needs to be accounted for when planning society’s long-term fitness rehabilitation.

James Cracknell

James Cracknell has set out why the Government must prioritise physical health (Image: Humphrey Nemar )

Rightly, much has been made of the short and long-term effects of school closures, both educationally and socially.

A study by Sport England in December found almost a third of children (2.3 million) were classed as “inactive” – meaning they did less than half an hour of exercise a day.

With the closure of schools, playgrounds, leisure centres, courts and pitches, it is hardly a surprise.

Only 19 percent of children under 16 are now doing the recommended hour of physical activity a day, as opposed to pre-Covid levels of 47 percent.

Swimming is a compulsory part of the primary school national curriculum, requiring all children when they leave school to be able to swim.

But during lockdowns one million children have missed out on swimming lessons over the past year according to Swim England – a genuine tragedy given that drowning is the third highest cause of death in children in the UK.

James Cracknell

The oarsman says Britain appears to be in a lockdown of fatigue (Image: Getty )

In surveys swimmers are found to have higher wellbeing than non-swimmers . They are happier and healthier, exhibiting higher levels of self-confidence.

In combination with the established benefits of exercise for any future lockdowns or pandemic, the fitness and leisure sector must be viewed as an essential service.

The Government has to formulate and execute a bold and ambitious plan to get our children moving again after lockdown. Otherwise their development, wellbeing and habitual behaviour could be negatively impacted for life.

Disparity is not just linked to affluence, but also gender.

The closure of fitness and leisure facilities has had a profound effect on women, as 54 percent of UK gym members are female, making up 76 percent of group classes.

For many the lockdown has been a national sit-down – 42 percent of us are sitting down an extra 14 hours a week, 27 percent an extra 21 hours and a further 15 percent of people over 28 hours.

Exercising

Exercising is shown to benefit both the physical and mental health of adults of children (Image: Getty )

Along with firing up our heart, lungs and leg muscles we’re going to have to reupholster our sofas as well.

During the first lockdown I witnessed the motivation and commitment people had for being active. Now the nation appears to be in lockdown fatigue and with that comes the loss of motivation to stay active for our bodies and minds.

The increased restrictions and lifestyle changes have resulted in a move towards poor health behaviours.

We have seen increased alcohol consumption, unhealthier diets, poorer sleep quality and decreased physical activity.

The changes in diet, sleep and physical activity have the clearest link to negative moods.

The irony is that now is the time for genuine positivity – we have vaccines but we need to help them work their magic.

Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “There is no point in life where doing more exercise does not improve health in multiple ways.” Numerous studies back him up, suggesting the important role exercise has in enhancing the response to vaccination.

Vaccines are not the end and they will not protect us from the underlying problem – the state of our public health.

As Dame Sally Davies, the former chief medical officer, said: “Thousands of Covid-19 deaths could have been avoided if we had tackled our obesity crisis.” Obesity drastically increases risk from the virus with a 113 percent increased probability of hospitalisation and it nearly doubles the likelihood of death.

So, hot on the heels of the mass vaccination rollout the Government must produce a radical plan to improve public health. It is imperative that the issues of inactivity across all ages and all backgrounds are addressed. Failure to do so will result in a longer crisis that puts our collective wellbeing under prolonged threat.

To turn around the fall in general physical activity the Government must reopen sport and fitness facilities, and quickly.

This sector did not have the comprehensive support offered to others, surprising in a health crisis. Pure Gym, for example, is losing £500,000 every day – even with the Exchequer’s support.

James Cracknell

Cracknell wants to the see the Government produce a radical plan to improve public health (Image: Getty )

This sector’s economic recovery is directly linked to the future of our public health.

Financial support should be accompanied by genuine support for the Better Health campaign, and in turn linked to the Prime Minister’s Obesity Strategy.

Supporting physical activity isn’t about finding future Olympic champions.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being physically healthy and active.

A number of the issues facing the Government can be helped by a flourishing fitness industry – mental health conditions, Type 2 diabetes, loneliness and crime reduction.

Successive governments have failed to fully unlock the potential of physical activity.

The current one has to place public health at the heart of this nation’s renewal. The healthier we are, the more we give ourselves a fighting chance.



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