AHPs and physical activity: a force for change

In this guest blog for our series Evidence for Everyday Allied Health (#EEAHP), Anna Lowe, Chartered Physiotherapist and Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, looks at the importance of promoting physical activity and how AHPs can contribute to re-shaping the physical activity culture of the NHS.

It seems to be the summer of physical activity! With the football, Wimbledon, Tour de France and the Olympics there’s plenty of inspiration around. It’s also #movemovemonth in my home city of Sheffield!

Physical inactivity, as a modifiable risk factor for all-cause mortality, has risen in the consciousness of AHPs. Our awareness of the global physical inactivity epidemic seems to have increased. The benefits of physical activity are so far-reaching, the World Health Organization now describes physical activity as “a critical component of a healthy life”.1


In spite of this, we know that the proportion of the population meeting the UK recommendations remains low2. It’s widely acknowledged that a system-wide approach is required if we are to make meaningful improvements to physical activity at the population level. Our role, as AHPs, in contributing to these changes is also becoming clearer. With approximately 7.5 million outpatient contacts annually3, AHPs are extremely well positioned to promote physical activity and recent survey data suggests that AHPs overwhelmingly agree that prevention is a core part of their professional role.4



Healthcare professionals promoting physical activity

NICE guidance “Physical activity: brief advice for adults in primary care” (PH44)includes recommendations on:

  • identifying adults who are inactive
  • delivering and following up on brief advice
  • incorporating brief advice in commissioning
  • systems to support brief advice
  • information and training to support brief advice.

This provides a useful, albeit aspirational, framework for AHP practice. The Department of Health’s (2012) report on The NHS’s role in the public’s health states that every healthcare professional should see every contact as an opportunity to improve health and wellbeing whatever their specialty and whatever the purpose of the contact6. The new Making Every Contact Count (MECC) consensus statement and supporting documents are valuable resources for AHP teams7. The addition of a MECC clause into the standard NHS contract 2016/17 may reduce some of the cultural barriers to change, with a health-promoting approach being increasingly expected and valued by those commissioning services.

Learning opportunities

In 2015 NICE produced a Quality Standard related to physical activity (QS848). NICE Quality Standards set out the priority areas for quality improvement. QS84 suggests that all healthcare professionals involved in encouraging physical activity in all people who are in contact with the NHS should have sufficient and appropriate training and competencies to deliver the actions and interventions described in the quality standard. Recent survey data suggests that some AHPs feel that they lack knowledge in this area,4 so I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a couple of learning opportunities that are both free and flexible:

BMJ Learning Modules: Physical activity in the treatment of long term conditions9

These free, online modules are aimed at healthcare professionals and have modules on how physical activity can be used to manage a number of long term conditions.



Physiotherapy, Exercise and Physical Activity MOOC10

This course is appropriate for all AHPs, it runs for 6 weeks over the summer and is a free, online, global learning experience on physical activity.


A physically active workforce

Last year Simon Stevens told us ….

“NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order….creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must-do.”

QS84 recommends that NHS organizations should have programmes to encourage and support employees to be more physically active. The expectation is that this would lead to an increase in physically active employees and a reduction in the number of days sick leave employees take each year. This is underpinned by evidence that physical activity programmes at work have been found to reduce absenteeism by up to 20%. A 20% reduction in NHS sickness and absence rates per year would save, in terms of productivity not lost, £381 million a year nationally.

There is also compelling evidence that active healthcare professionals promote more physical activity to their patients11. This summer’s #WeActiveChallenge is a workforce physical activity challenge; groups of nurses, midwives, health visitors, AHPs, doctors, pharmacists, paramedics, finance professionals and commissioners will go head to head to see who can be the most active…there are even chirp medals at stake!12 With over 100,000 combined followers the #WeActiveChallenge is a great way to encourage the workforce to become more active and to get everyone talking about physical activity with their patients and colleagues.


Physical inactivity has gone from being a light weight consideration to being recognized as one of the key, modifiable risk factors for disability and early death. As AHPs we are so well positioned to contribute to the system-wide approach required to bring about change. Promoting physical activity is everyone’s business and NICE guidance gives us clear guidance that is both evidence-based and user-friendly. I hope AHPs will continue to push this agenda forwards and re-shape the physical activity culture of the NHS.

You can follow Anna Lowe on Twitter @annalowephysio and read more from our Evidence for Everyday Allied Health series here

Anna Lowe declared that she is acting in a voluntary capacity as a facilitator on the Physiotherapy, Exercise and Physical Activity MOOC

[Form id=”14″]


Creative Commons License
AHPs and physical activity: a force for change by Anna Lowe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

AHPs and physical activity: a force for change by Anna Lowe

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.