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What does physical activity mean and what does it mean to be physically active?

Mum and daughter stretch. Photograph - Source: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com


There have been many reports, research papers and articles focusing on the benefits of being active and all make a common note that physical activity is good and sedentary behaviour is bad.

But if it is that simple, why is it so hard?

As the fourth leading cause of mortality behind stalwart health implicating actions such as smoking, physical activity is obviously not a new challenge and should be taken seriously, if not even more than it is being today.

By definition physical activity is "any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure." Simply stated it is moving, but the issue comes in that simply moving isn't enough to make you physically active.

However this is not a case of 'lazy Britain' but more a nation caught by an inactivity depression.

Sport and physical activity have recently been drawn in a similar light, as the changing focus of Sport England's strategy 'Towards An Active Nation' has confirmed. Yet it has always made me curious why demarcation between the two exists, as if you first become physically active then begin to engage with sport?

For me, the only thing 'you' are - at least in the moment - is active or inactive but it isn't a binary relationship.

The Chief Medical Office helps to clarify the query of what counts as being 'active' by setting out some guidelines for physical activity, examples exist for everyone from Under 5's to Older Adults, e.g: Adults are aiming for 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Added to this the need to break up periods of sedentary behaviour.

Some choose to take up physical activity through playing sport where as others choose activities like gardening or walking the dog. But there is no real difference at a physical activity level as both make us move more.

A coach can be the person to support our recovery from an inactivity depression.

Sport has long been suggested as a remedy to the physical activity puzzle but more accurately than this, it is the 'coaching' of sport that can make the real difference, and I believe that this is one of the biggest a ways in which coaching can change lives.

So we are talking about a 'health benefitting activity', which does require a bit more than just moving.

It may feel like the role of a coach is constantly expanding. However it may be that the scope is merely more shifting.

Half of the answer to being physically active is to move more but the other half of the puzzle involves sitting less. Understanding that physical inactivity and activity is not a binary option is critical to helping people make a change, the opposite of being active isn't necessarily inactive.

Craig Blain, Development Lead Physical Activity, Sports Coach UK

This conversation is one I would love to continue so please do comment or get in touch via twitter @CraigABlain to keep it alive. When tweeting use the hashtag #PhysicalActivity.


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