By Dr Emma Lunan

AS we head towards the summer months, many of us will be looking forward to physical exercise. However, many people living with long-term conditions are unfortunately unable to access the facilities they need for physical exercise. As we approach the Scottish Parliament elections, we need to consider what a more sustainable, healthy society might look like, with physical activity at its heart.

Movement for Health, a new coalition of Scotland’s leading health charities, is asking all political parties to unite behind the prioritisation of physical activity facilities and support for people with long-term conditions to enable them to lead healthy lives.

Why do we need to focus on physical activity now? Unfortunately, the evidence is stark: 17 per cent of deaths in Scotland are caused by inactivity, compared to nine per cent worldwide. Equality is also a critical issue – 46% of adults living in Scotland’s deprived communities have reported a limiting long-standing illness, compared to 25% in more affluent parts of the country.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought increased urgency to the issue of inactivity, with statistics showing that 40% of people with a long term health condition have been doing less activity than normal during lockdown.

If Scotland is to recover from the pandemic and address health inequalities, we need to act now. The benefits of regular physical activity are well-proven. As much as 40% of long-term conditions can be caused by inactivity. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing significant health conditions. Research also shows that physical activity can boost self-esteem and energy, while reducing risk of stress and depression.

The pandemic has heightened the importance of ensuring everyone has access to local services and facilities to participate in and enjoy physical activity. Everyone should have a right to access facilities and services to maintain their health, especially individuals living with long-term conditions who, as a group, have struggled to maintain activity during Covid-19 due to support being lost and facilities being closed. Yet, as we feel the economic bite of the pandemic, many of our lifeline facilities are potentially under threat of closure due to lack of funding. Ensuring everyone can access their local parks and countryside is critical both from a healthcare and equity basis.

Post-Covid recovery offers an opportunity for change. We believe that through national and local leadership, there is a real opportunity to create a step-change in our approach to physical activity and revitalise our communities and workplaces through appropriate infrastructure to encourage active travel and physical activity.

In doing so, we will create jobs, local opportunities and resilient communities. We need a mix of personalised social prescribing, such as prescribed physical activity, and appropriate pathways for all NHS patients. By investing in physical activity we can help improve many health conditions, prevent future illness, help tackle health inequalities and protect the NHS.

The time to act is now and we can’t afford not to.

Dr Emma Lunan is Chair at Movement for Health