Dr Jason Gill: The obesity epidemic has triggered a growing interest in physical activity

Chair of the division of physical activity for health, The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences

In 1953, Professor Jerry Morris and colleagues published papers in The Lancet reporting that London bus conductors, who spent their days walking up and down the steps of double-decker buses, had lower rates of heart disease mortality than the drivers of the same buses, and that London postmen who spent their days walking to deliver letters had lower heart disease mortality than their deskbound colleagues who worked as clerks and answered telephones in the postal offices.

During the intervening decades there have been over 50 large population-based studies, which together indicate that those undertaking the lowest levels of physical activity or with the lowest levels of fitness experience almost twice the risk of heart disease compared to their more active and fitter counterparts.

With about a third of all adults in the UK undertaking no physical activity in a typical week and over two-thirds taking insufficient activity to meet current UK physical activity for health guidelines – at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on five or more days of week – the total public health burden of inactivity is high. Recent estimates from the British Heart Foundation suggest that almost two-fifths of all heart disease deaths in the UK can be attributed to the fact that we, as a population, are not active enough.

It has taken a long time for the physical activity message to filter into the consciousness of policy makers and health professionals outside the field of exercise science. However, over the past decade or so, the importance of physical activity for the maintenance of health and the prevention of chronic disease has received increasingly widespread acceptance from government, the medical profession and scientists.

One trigger for the increasing interest in physical activity is the burgeoning obesity epidemic. In 1980, 8 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women in the UK were obese; by 2003 this figure had risen to 23 per cent for both sexes. There is much debate about whether the growing obesity epidemic is a consequence of increased food consumption or reduced physical activity, but what is clear is that we are, as a nation, currently undertaking too little physical activity for our current level of energy intake.

However, to focus on the role of physical activity in reducing the risk of heart disease and preventing and treating obesity is to undersell the benefits of adopting a physically active lifestyle. For example, there is evidence to suggest that active children may perform better at school, and that being physically active helps older adults to maintain their independence for longer. There is also an increasing body of evidence indicating that physical activity helps cognitive function throughout the lifespan and can promote neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells – providing scientific evidence in support of the Roman saying, Mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.

There is still much work to be done and exercise scientists can play two important complementary roles. The first is in research. We need to understand more about the mechanisms by which physical activity is beneficial to health; we know that being active is beneficial but there is still much to be learnt about how being active benefits us.

Why, for example, do some people lose weight easily when they become more active, but others struggle? Do different people need different amounts of activity for optimal health? And how do we identify those who need to do more... or less? The list goes on. Undertaking a career in research will require further study beyond an undergraduate degree, usually to PhD level and increasingly to postdoctoral level.

The second important role that exercise scientists can play is through applying currently available knowledge to increase physical activity levels. This could take place in a variety of contexts, for example, by working as a GP referral exercise consultant or a clinical exercise physiologist in a cardiac rehabilitation setting. One initiative that BASES is launching later this year to facilitate career development for those wishing to work in this area will be an accreditation scheme for "Exercise Science Practitioners".

Accreditation will be available to those with a degree in sport and exercise science, with sufficient experience of exercise testing and prescription in populations with different health conditions, who can demonstrate that they possess a specific list of skills and competencies. Accreditation will enable exercise science practitioners to show that they are high-calibre exercise professionals. More information will be available on the BASES website later in the year.

The writer works at the Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Further information on careers in the sport and exercise sciences is available in the BASES career guide, available free on the BASES website at www.bases. org.uk/newsite/studentcareers.asp

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

First Class Graduate (Computer Science, Economics, Finance)

£23000 per annum: Harrington Starr: First Class Graduate (Computer Science, Ec...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice