Active approach to healthy living

The number of Scots failing to reach the activity levels needed to sustain good health remains stubbornly high. It’s time for a change, says Marjory Burns

Physical activity can help prevent major diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Picture: BHF
Physical activity can help prevent major diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Picture: BHF

Physical inactivity is estimated to cost Scotland £91 million a year – and it’s costing the lives of ourselves and our loved ones.

Nearly a third of men and nearly a half of women in Scotland don’t do the recommended levels of exercise – at least 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, physical activity a week.

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More adults should be meeting this recommendation, because we all know that physical activity can help prevent major diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as benefit your mental health.

“Bah humbug,” I hear you say. “Give us a break.” It’s the season of goodwill to all men, women and children, and with that comes implicit permission to overindulge in lots of festive goodies. It’s the time of year when the TV is bursting with feel-good films, sit-com specials and random “best ofs” that demand we soak up from our settees.

Well, actually, with the saturation of on-demand TV, and viewing on mobile devices, we’re now encouraged to sit around all year round. But it’s killing us. Preventing cardiovascular disease, which includes all diseases of the heart and circulatory system including coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke, is a core part of the BHF’s work.

And do you know how we might prevent a tenth of all cases of CHD in the UK? By getting all inactive people to become active. Physical activity, which could be as simple as just going for a walk, is a preventative measure for a number of health conditions, so BHF Scotland is collaborating with the Scottish Sports Association and leading health charities to get this message across.

This group, encompassing both physical and mental health, has come together as interest in sport flourishes thanks to the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics coming to Great Britain.

I’m encouraged that Scotland’s former Cabinet Secretary for the Commonwealth Games and Sport is now our Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing. And we’ll be taking a clear message to Shona Robison that there is an opportunity not to be missed – to encourage people of all ages to get physically active to avoid serious health issues. This will save lives and money.

The Scottish Physical Activity Task Force estimated that if physical inactivity in Scotland decreased by 1 per cent each year for the next five years:

• the economic benefit associated with the number of life years saved due to preventing these deaths is estimated to be £85.2 million.

• yearly hospital admissions for CHD, colon cancer and stroke would fall by around 2,231 cases.

• NHS Scotland could have a possible yearly cost saving of £3.5m.

What will it take to make that 1 per cent drop happen? I’m not sure there’s a simple answer, so perhaps we should all ask ourselves what we can do. A good start might be to dust off the new year resolutions we made on 1 January – and throw them in the recycling bin. We can make changes to improve our health at any time and they don’t need to be on a huge scale, as resolutions often are.

You’re more likely to succeed in making lifestyle changes if you start small. Check out the BHF’s “Ten minutes to change your life” guide. It’s free on our website at and it’s there all year round. Finally… do have a Merry Christmas!

• Marjory Burns is director of BHF Scotland