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We need to move!


As public health specialists gather at the University of Warwick for the Public Health England (PHE) annual conference today, thinking turns to one of society’s ever-present problems: how to get people active and keep them moving.

Our recent themed review ‘Moving Matters’ explores this issue, drawing from over 50 published and ongoing NIHR studies on physical activity, examining five clusters of evidence about the potential to change inactivity:

  • Early years/young children
  • Young people of secondary school age
  • Adults and home and work
  • Older adults
  • Built and natural environments

Moving Matters shows real gains from tailored approaches such as football clubs for men to walking programmes using pedometers.  Research also shows some promising initiatives, such as some school-based activities, which appeared effective in small studies but did not have the same impact at scale.

In July, more than 70 local councillors, public health specialists, transport planners, leisure and sport experts, researchers and others packed into our launch seminar to hear more about Moving Matters.  We heard from leading researchers as well as those implementing programmes on the ground at demonstrator sites from Manchester to Belfast. The famous public health expert Sir Muir Gray gave his inimitable wisdom, teamed with a physical energiser to get the room moving. 

There was rich discussion on the day.  Those present agreed on a number of conclusions:

  • There is no single ‘magic bullet’ intervention to change inactivity and results will depend on particular needs and contexts 
  • We need to focus on the least active and tailor programmes to reach those who most need them
  • All agencies need a great understanding of people’s motivation to be physically active – and to use that insight to collaborate on joint investment in infrastructure, systems and the built environment to make change more likely….
  • But agencies with responsibility for physical activity don’t necessarily need to make huge investment in new interventions – sometimes, small adaptations to existing facilities or services may be enough to trigger changes in behaviour
  • While increasing physical activity can confer measurable health benefits, most people will respond more positively to messages that stress the pleasure, fun and satisfaction with life that can come from greater activity levels, however these are achieved

As the delegates holed up in the conference at Warwick know all too well, relatively small amounts of physical activity can make us all feel better.

Print copies of Moving Matters will be available on the NIHR stand at the PHE Conference from September 10 and 11 at the University of Warwick.

All published NIHR Themed Reviews, Highlights and Signals are freely available on the NIHR Discover Portal.


Alison Ford, Head of Engagement, NIHR Dissemination Centre


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.