Physical activity benefits outweigh risks for people with long-term health conditions

A new consensus statement from health experts has determined that physical activity is safe – even for people living with symptoms of multiple conditions.

The benefits of taking part in physical activity “outweigh the risks” for people with long-term health conditions.

A major review of scientific evidence and expert clinical consensus has found physical activity is safe – even for people living with symptoms of multiple conditions.

The findings will offer guidance for healthcare professionals that physical activity can be used to manage the majority of long-term health conditions and lead to more people with long-term health conditions being encouraged to take part in sport and physical activity.

One in four people in England live with a long-term health condition, and those in this group are twice as likely to be inactive, despite evidence that being active can help manage many conditions and reduce the impact and severity of some symptoms.

However, there are many barriers to getting active for those living with a long-term health condition – including fears that physical activity may worsen their symptoms, and requirements to gain medical clearance prior to increasing activity levels.

The new consensus statement aims to break down these barriers by clarifying fundamental safety considerations and bridging the gap between evidence, clinical and public health guidelines and people’s lived experience.

Tim Hollingsworth, our chief executive, said the research would give more people the confidence to promote and take part in sport and physical activity, and prove crucial in our long-term strategy’s goal of helping people with long-term health conditions enjoy the benefits of being active.

“Breaking down the barriers that make it harder for the 15 million people living with long-term health conditions in England to get active is critical to tackling health inequalities: a key aim of our Uniting the Movement strategy,” he said.

“This new consensus statement is a really positive step – it will play a vital role in supporting healthcare professionals to empower their patients to get active in a way that is right for them.

“In future, our ambition is for this work to be embedded into the sport and physical activity sector too, ensuring a joined-up approach between the different sectors that support people’s health.”

There are five impact statements that make up the consensus:

  • For people living with long-term conditions, the benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks and physical activity is safe, even for people living with symptoms of multiple long-term conditions
  • Despite the risks of serious events being very low, perceived risk is high
  • It’s not as easy as just telling someone to move more; person-centred conversations are essential for addressing perceived risk
  • Everybody has their own starting point
  • People should stop and seek medical attention if they experience a dramatic increase in symptoms.

There are eight symptom specific statements, to support healthcare professionals to have well informed personalised conversations with patients to effectively address concerns about the impact of increasing activity on their symptoms. These include; Musculoskeletal pain, Fatigue (NB), Shortness of breath, Cardiac chest pain, Palpitations, Dysglycaemia, (high or low blood sugar), Cognitive impairment, Falls and frailty to support conversations with patients.

We worked with the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the Royal College of General Practitioners to develop these statements, through expert consensus, about the medical risks of physical activity for all adults, irrespective of age, or living with one or more long-term conditions.

Read the rest of the article on the Sport England website HERE