Overview of Physical Activity

Why is physical activity important?

According to Public Health England, we are now around 20% less active than in 1961. If current trends continue, we will be 35% less active by 2030.  With an ageing population facing a range of health challenges across the life course, including obesity and various long-term conditions, high levels of inactivity has serious implications.

Physical inactivity is now the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK and directly contributes to one in six deaths - roughly the same number as smoking. Inactivity is linked to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, dementia, stroke, heart disease, hypertension and mental illness. Regular physical activity helps to prevent and alleviate these conditions and is essential for physical and mental health and wellbeing.

  • Long-term conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disease lead to greater dependency on home, residential and ultimately nursing care. Being active at every age reduces the risk of these conditions and improves our chances of being healthy and independent.
  • Physical activity boosts energy levels, increases workplace productivity and reduces sickness absence. Businesses with active workforces have lower sickness rates and lower staff turnover.
  • Physical activity can foster connections with other people through volunteering and trying new activities, reducing social isolation and promoting community spirit.
  • Vision 2030

    More people in Sandwell suffer the consequences of physical inactivity because fewer people in the borough are active compared to regional and national activity levels. Increasing the levels of activity in Sandwell will help us achieve the council’s 2030 vision of Sandwell being ‘a place where we live healthy lives and live them for longer’.

    Physical activity in Sandwell

    More people in Sandwell suffer the consequences of physical inactivity because fewer people in the borough are active compared to regional and national activity levels.  Sport England’s 2018 Active Lives survey data shows the extent of the problem - an extra 20,420 physically inactive people would have to start doing any physical activity for Sandwell to reach the national average.

    The low level of physical activity in Sandwell contributes to:

  • A higher percentage of adults being classed as overweight or obese than regional and national rates
  • Preventable deaths from cardiovascular disease being higher than regional and national rates
  • Lower healthy life expectancy than the regional and national averages for women and men
  • Physical activity levels vary across demographic groups in Sandwell and this creates significant health inequalities:

  • Women are less physically active than men
  • People are less physically active as they get older
  • People with disabilities and long-term conditions are less active than people without these conditions
  • Black and minority ethnic groups are less physically active than White British people
  • People in lower socio-economic groups are less active than people in higher socio-economic groups
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people may face barriers to taking part in sport and physical activity
  • Of all the demographic influences on physical, socio-economic class is particularly important in Sandwell.  Research shows that people of lower socio-economic status are less likely to make healthy choices such as exercising regularly and eating fruit and vegetables daily.

    People living in deprived areas are twice as likely to be physically inactive as those living in more prosperous areas. The 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation ranked Sandwell the 13th most deprived local authority in the country out of a total of 326. The link between deprivation and low levels of physical activity is confirmed by Sport England’s 2017/2018 Active Lives survey which ranked Sandwell 13th of 326 local authorities for physical inactivity (where 1 is the most inactive and 326 is the least inactive).

    Evidence around physical activity

    Public Health England’s report, ‘Everybody active, every day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity’, outlines evidence on the consequences of inactivity, demographic differences in inactivity, and the benefit of focusing on people who are inactive.

    Moving those who are inactive to a significant level of activity would have the greatest benefit, but any shift helps. There is a three-year difference in life expectancy between people who are inactive and people who are minimally active.  This is an incentive to focus on the most inactive people. The diagram below reinforces the impact of even a small amount of physical activity for someone who is inactive.


    A full evaluation of the CANs programme is currently underway, which will include a series of recommendations for future projects/ programmes.

    JSNA Sections (click to expand)

    Services in Sandwell

    Having services that are community-focused is one of the main principles of Sport England’s ‘Towards an active nation’ strategy.  Every person belongs to a community with its own unique structure, relationships and geography. Therefore the sport and physical activity offer must be designed to meet each community’s specific needs and wishes.  The physical activity programme in Sandwell is led by the council’s Public Health and Sport and Leisure teams working together to deliver services appropriate to the needs of local residents.

    From 2015-2018 the Community Activity Network (CAN) (co-funded by Public Health and Sport England) worked in partnership with communities, stakeholders and third sector organisations across the six towns of Sandwell to increase levels of physical activity and participation in sport.

    The CAN funded 105 projects to get inactive people moving, some of which included:

  • Group fitness and weight management for pregnant women
  • Engagement of young people with behavioural difficulties through sports and physical activity
  • Using ‘Fitbits’ to encourage increased participation in physical activity
  • Fitness training and rugby skills for girls and women
  • Bhangrafit
  • Family Swimming Lessons
  • Young families ante and post-natal exercise
  • Installation of outdoor gym equipment
  • Fitness activities for females only, including circuits and zumba.
  • Lads and dads basketball sessions
  • Kickboxing
  • ‘Pop up’ sports such as badminton, street golf and table tennis
  • The table and charts below summarise the impact of the CAN programme.

    CAN Performance
    Community Activity Network (CAN) programme impact

    2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 Total
    Number of people engaged 460 3,574 1,715 5,749
    Participant throughput 1,871 30,897 20,416 53,184
    Voluntary organisations supported 325 149 68 542
    Successful CAN funding applications 41 21 43 105
    Value of CAN funding applications £111,311 £47,428 £57,015 £215,754

    Source: Sandwell Physical Activity Board


    Between 2015-2018, CAN projects engaged 5,749 people and increased physical activity levels in the borough.  This is reflected in Sport England’s 2017/2018 Active Lives survey data which showed that the number of physically inactive people in Sandwell decreased by 4,500 since the previous survey in 2016/2017.

    In the two year period 2015/16 to 2016/17 take up of physical activity programmes funded by CAN exceeded targets in all demographic groups except people with disabilities.


    Cost effectiveness

    The cost per head of CAN physical activity programmes was lower than Sport England’s estimate of the cost of getting one person from being inactive to undertaking any physical activity.  Getting more people active will also accrue significant savings in the long run due to reduced spending on the treatment of health conditions associated with physical inactivity.


    Sport and Leisure services

    The Public Health and Sport & Leisure teams work in partnership to raise physical activity levels in Sandwell.  The Sport & Leisure team is responsible for facilities management.  Sandwell Council’s sport and leisure facilities are managed by Sandwell Leisure Trust (10 facilities) and Places for People Leisure (1 facility).  High quality, safe, user-friendly spaces are essential to attract and retain membership of sport and leisure facilities.  There is an ongoing programme of improvements to upgrade and update the sport and leisure building stock in the borough.  For example, in 2017/2018, Sandwell Leisure Trust invested over £285,000 in the refurbishment and replacement of equipment.

    In the past 8 years (2010-2018) four new facilities were opened in Oldbury, West Bromwich, Wednesbury and Tipton, with a new state-of-the-art aquatic centre currently in development in Smethwick for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

    There were 2.8 million attendances at council sports and leisure centres in 2017/18.  This represented a 9% increase since 2015/16.

    A major initiative by Sports and Leisure Services to increase physical activity is the free swimming offer to Sandwell residents aged 16 and under and over 60. Sandwell residents registered with a disability are also entitled to attend any public swimming session for free at any time. The free swimming offer has been very popular since its launch in 2013.  Attendance rates have increased year-on-year for the past three years.  In 2017/2018, eligible Sandwell residents enjoyed 96, 642 free swims.

    Physical activity for Sandwell Council employees

    The Government’s ‘Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation’ highlighted the key role of employers in supporting employees who find it difficult to fit physical activity into their working day.  This also ties in with the ‘whole system’ approach to behaviour change by promoting an organisational culture which encourages and supports being physically active.  Sandwell Council is the largest employer in the borough with over 10,000 employees.  This is a large group of people to whom physical activity can be promoted.  The Public Health team currently offers physical activity sessions to people who work for the council.  These sessions include:

  • Badminton
  • Football
  • Zumba
  • Yoga
  • Health walks
  • Technology

    Public Health England emphasises the importance of technology as an emerging area with huge potential to change set patterns of inactivity among individuals and communities. Digital technology can be used as a ‘nudge’ to get more people active and provide connections between people and information about suitable activity programmes.



    The government’s ‘Sporting Future’ strategy emphasises the importance of volunteers in the provision of sport and physical activity.  It encourages volunteering for its own sake because volunteers benefit as much as the people attending the events. Volunteering helps to promote community cohesion and social inclusion as volunteers are more likely to feel they belong in their area and enjoy stronger social links with other people.  Diversity among volunteers is as important as the numbers of people volunteering so that volunteers are representative of the demographic make-up of the local community.  This is particularly important for Sandwell’s diverse population.  However, volunteering rates are low in Sandwell.  Sport England’s Active Lives 2017/18 data shows that the number of volunteers has decreased since the previous year and that Sandwell has the lowest level of volunteering in the Black Country.


    Physical activity Provision for disabled people

    Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 the participation rate of disabled people in physical activity programmes funded by the CAN more than doubled.  However, the participation rate was still below target.  Disabled people were the only demographic group for whom this was the case.

    The following national, regional and local physical activity strategies and policies provide the guidance and evidence base which underpins the programme to reduce physical inactivity in Sandwell.

    Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation was the Government’s response to ‘the flatlining levels of sport participation and high levels of inactivity in this country’.

    It prioritises five key outcomes:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Individual development
  • Social and community development
  • Economic development
  • It focuses on reducing inactivity for people who do less physical activity than the population as a whole, while ensuring those who are currently meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for physical activity do not ‘slip into inactivity’.

    It emphasises tackling inequality in sections of society that face common barriers to taking part and who take part in sport and physical activity at below average levels e.g. people from lower socio-economic groups, women, disabled people, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) people and some Black and Minority Ethnic people.

    This will be achieved by making physical activity more accessible, offering people ways to be active that they enjoy, at times and places that suit them, and encouraging people to create opportunities to engage in activity for themselves.

    Volunteering supports participation in sport and physical activity and also allows volunteers to enjoy the benefits of taking part in sport and physical activity.

    It also highlights the key role of employers.  Where people are not able to find time to fit sport and physical activity into their personal lives, it is important that employers are encouraged to provide the opportunities to be physically active in and around their working day.

    Local authorities also play an important role as they have responsibility for wider policy areas which can have a significant impact on the physical activity of the local population, including management of rights of way, parks and other green spaces.

    New technology creates the potential for increasing participation in sport and physical activity.  Apps and other technology such as Fitbit have created new ways to motivate people and to make participation in sport and physical activity more exciting and appealing.

    Public Health England - Everybody active, every day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity (2014) recommends that:

  • Local authorities prioritise the creation and maintenance of environments that encourage people to be active. Doing this can bring added benefits, such as reduced traffic congestion, the revitalisation of local shops and services and increased community cohesion and social interaction
  • Physical activity strategies should be integrated with local spatial and neighbourhood plans, transport plans community sports and physical activity plans, clinical commissioning group strategic plan and economic regeneration plans
  • Align the local plan and the health and wellbeing strategy informed by the JSNA and plans being developed by local enterprise partnerships, which should make public health a priority in their strategic planning and investment choices to deliver healthy environments
  • Develop coordinated, cross-sector approaches and interventions to promote walking, cycling, active transport and active play, including the choice of sites for new developments for example, housing, education and health care settings, for all ages through effective use of the local plan and other instruments such as the door-to-door strategy, local growth fund and local sustainable transport fund
  • Deliver multi-component sport, leisure, and outdoor based on insight/ co-creation work that are attractive and appropriate to the whole community (including children, young people and older people) to contribute to their opportunities to be physically active
  • Use regulatory and statutory frameworks such as the local plan, licensing and assessments to design healthy, inclusive (e.g., age and disability-friendly) environments that promote social interaction, physical activity, and a general feeling of safety and security

    Sport England: Towards an Active Nation Strategy 2016–2021 (2016) Takes its lead from the Government’s 2015 strategy and reinforces the focus on

  • Addressing the people who are least active because this is where the gains for the individual and for society are greatest.
  • Reaching under-represented groups and looking to work with partners who understand these groups best
  • Effective local delivery and awareness that each community has its unique structure, needs, relationships and geography and utilising these factors to increase physical activity
  • Towards an active Black Country strategic framework 2017-2033 (2017)
  • Emphasises the added value to be had from partnership working and a Black Country wide approach
  • A ‘Whole System approach’ focusing on people, place and business in order to encourage people to get active
  • The importance of understanding residents, their needs, issues, challenges and barriers to getting active with focus on people from deprived communities
  • Accessibility and making it easier for individuals and communities to be physically active
  • Working with, rather than telling communities what is needed

  • West Midlands on the move: Physical activity strategic framework 2017-2030 (2017)
  • Making it easier and more desirable to move around the West Midlands
  • Making it easier and more enjoyable to be outdoors in our green and blue spaces and urban environments
  • Improving how it feels to live in our streets and communities
  • Improving people’s life chances, wellbeing, employability and access to work.

  • Sandwell’s Physical Activity Strategy By adopting a ‘whole system approach’ to tackling physical inactivity in Sandwell, the resulting health, social and economic benefits will contribute to the achievement of the ten ambitions of the 2030 Vision.  (Note: Work is ongoing on a new physical activity strategy for Sandwell)