A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing Contents

Chapter 5: Enabling active lifestyles

277.This chapter looks at ways to enable people to be active in everyday life. We start by looking at the need to develop a whole system, placed-based approach to deliver the national plan. We then consider how planning and design can lead to the creation of active environments and increase opportunities for active travel. We then discuss the opportunities and limitations of technology to support and motivate people to be more active. Finally, we consider how the science of behaviour and motivation can help to make movement part of everyone’s everyday routine.

Developing a whole system, place-based approach

278.A whole system approach is about creating a shared vision that links multiple sectors and stakeholders to work together and drive forward mutually agreed changes. A place-based approach advocates the leveraging of local systems and partnerships to work for the benefit of local people and communities and supporting the needs of the local area. A place-based approach also envisages local communities shaping local systems and creating partnerships with stakeholders to drive forward local priorities. We believe this approach can apply to local planning and delivery of sport and recreation policy.

279.Key elements of a whole-system, place-based approach to physical activity might be characterised as follows:

280.Andy Reed, Co-Founder and Director of the Sports Think Tank, described a whole system approach as “creating an ecosystem at a local level to build physical activity back into our daily lives.”394 BASES told us that a whole system approach is a pre-requisite to achieving the kind of consistency in policy that can lead to long-term, sustainable change.395

281.Hayley Lever, CEO at GreaterSport, the Active Partnership covering Greater Manchester, and Exec Lead at Greater Manchester Moving, told us that diverse offers delivered by different bodies are the hallmark of a strong whole system, place-based approach. She added that Active Partnerships and local authorities are at their best when they embrace the complexity and work together without needing to control or coordinate what is happening.396

282.PHE said that it recognised the need for a whole system approach that engages locally to get people active.397 However, the Richmond Group of Charities, a collection of national charities focussing on England’s health and care systems, noted that there is a limited and inconsistent approach to prioritising physical activity among health policy makers, a lack of coordination at the local and regional level, and a lack of training, confidence and awareness of physical activity guidance and available tools among GPs.398

283.It was clear that our witnesses did not think that a whole system, place-based approach is currently being achieved. Versus Arthritis called for the introduction of “a whole system, place-based approach, with a focus on collaborative working, community co-design, and building on the assets which already exist at a local level.”399 The Sport and Recreation Alliance said there needed to be “a much more coordinated and coherent whole-of-government approach” with clear and ambitious outcomes and robust measures, and accountability mechanisms.400

284.A national plan must take a broad, whole system approach so that activity can be embedded in all aspects of our everyday life including work, leisure time, health and travel. At the same time, a one-size fits all approach will not work. Funding needs to be distributed to the local, grassroots level with power residing in local authorities, metro mayors and communities to develop place-based approaches.

Planning and design

285.The planning and design of our communities can play a critical role in promoting physical activity. This includes creating active environments, improving access to the countryside’s green and blue spaces, and building infrastructure that allows greater opportunities for active travel. This will be a key part of the national plan and will require significant cross-departmental buy-in and coordination.

Active environments

286.Creating active environments is about designing and developing the right conditions for people to be active in their everyday life. It encompasses planning, housing, transport, and other infrastructure and access considerations that influence when and how people choose to be active.

287.Professor Dame Marteau, Director of Behaviour and Health Research Unit, University of Cambridge, told us that we need to be creating “enabling environments” which support people to make active lifestyle choices.401 Active Partnerships noted that “spaces and places are one of the most important conditions in influencing people’s ability to be active”.402 Sport England emphasised the importance of integration of public leisure infrastructure including clubs, travel networks, green spaces and schools.403

288.Cycling UK told us that too many new housing developments are placed in car-dependent locations, with poor cycling or walking access to public transport and other key amenities.404 Hayley Lever, CEO at GreaterSport and Exec Lead at Greater Manchester Moving, called for greater consideration of physical activity in the planning of homes, streets, neighbourhoods, services, towns, cities and transport infrastructure.405 Dr Kathryn Atherton, Adviser to the Behavioural Insights Team, told us that the construction of new buildings should be designed to maximise incidental physical activity through, for example, “the positioning of stairs relative to lifts and escalators, and ensuring that there are safe, walkable routes from housing to all local amenities.”406

289.Playing Out, a charity promoting safe streets activities for children, identified motorised traffic as the main barrier for children to play outside safely. It highlighted Dutch urban planning which attempts to improve child health through the provision of safe urban play space, as an example of good practice.407 British Cycling noted the “leadership” demonstrated by the publication of the London-wide planning guidance on children’s play and recreation in The London Plan 2016 produced by the Mayor of London. It states that “development proposals that include housing should make provision for play and informal recreation.”408

290.We heard about the importance of access to parks and other green spaces to facilitate physical activity. Gemma Cantelo, former Head of Policy and Advocacy at the Ramblers, told us that people within 500 metres of accessible green space are 24 per cent more likely to meet recommended levels of physical activity. She called for more investment to improve accessibility including replacing and removing inaccessible path furniture such a stiles and addressing “other, less visible barriers to access, such as poor public transport and poor signposting.”409 She suggested that there is an opportunity to use the new agricultural payments regime “to direct money towards schemes that would improve public access … and make our paths more accessible to people who currently struggle to access them because there are stiles or there is no circular route near where they live.” 410

291.The Country Land and Business Association told us that many of its members, including private landowners, would be willing to facilitate public access if there was “the right support, flexibility and incentives”, such as support for landowners to balance commitments for nature recovery with increased public access.411 The National Farmers Union noted that farmers, especially those on urban fringes, could be supported in increasing public access to the countryside through future Environmental Land Management Schemes which could be administered to aid famers “to maintain, create or enhance public rights of way”.412

292.Cycling UK noted that just 22 per cent of England’s rights of way network permit the use of cycles, and parts of that are “not necessarily the most suitable or useful sections” for cyclists. It called for “greater integration between the planning and funding of ‘active travel’ networks and rights of way networks.”413

293.British Canoeing noted that more could be done to improve access to blue space. It noted that it has been working with British Mountaineering Council and the Ramblers to ensure that public access to the countryside via rights of way and navigation on water are part of the new Environmental Land Management schemes.414 Clive Copeland, Head of Participation at the Angling Trust, told us that one of the barriers to participation in angling is lack of knowledge about where to fish.415

294.The Uniting the Movement strategy set out Sport England’s ambition to “make the choice to be active easier and more appealing for everyone” including through planning and design of communities and active travel.416

Active travel

295.The Government published its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) in 2017 and its Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking strategy in 2020.417 The Government told us that of the 26 actions outlined in the CWIS “around half are substantially completed” and most of the others were long-term interventions.418 The Gear Change strategy includes a £2 billion package of funding for cycling and walking over the next five years. The Government said that the Department for Transport is also supporting 46 local authorities with their Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans so they can deliver high-quality cycling and walking programmes.419

296.Cycling UK “warmly welcomed” the Gear Change strategy but told us that it “needs stronger buy-in from several key Government departments, notably the Treasury.”420 Sarah Mitchell, CEO of Cycling UK, told us that the strategy includes many cross-departmental commitments but that other departments, such as the DfE and DHSC, were not showing enough buy-in.421

297.Professor Dame Marteau explained that in encouraging the population to use active travel infrastructure such as cycle routes, it needs to be made safe enough so that travelling by bike is “safer than travelling by car”.422

298.We also heard that providing safe cycle routes is essential to encourage children and young people to take up active travel. Sarah Mitchell told us that in the Netherlands approximately two-thirds of primary school children cycle to school, whereas in the UK it is only 1–3 per cent of primary and secondary schoolchildren.423

299.The Bikeability Trust, the Department for Transport’s cycle education programme, identified barriers to encouraging more people to use bikes. These included a lack of safe, affordable cycle storage, particularly in urban areas, costs of owning a bike, the costs of adapted equipment and access to training in specialist schools for those with SEND, and cultural barriers within ethnic groups about the importance of cycling.424

300.Gemma Cantelo raised the role of walking as part of active travel and told us that it is important to ‘normalise’ walking for children by providing safe pathways and encouraging children and parents to walk to school as part of their daily activity.425

301.The Centre for Ageing Better noted barriers for pedestrians including a lack of pavements, poor street lighting and exposure to high motor vehicle speeds. It noted that people from lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to live in areas with pedestrian infrastructure that is more hazard strewn, for example uneven and deteriorating surfaces or lacking dropped kerbs, making it harder to navigate, especially for those with mobility issues. The Centre for Ageing Better called for Government to tackle barriers for older age groups, including separating cyclists from cars and pedestrians and ensuring that pavements, cycle lanes and roads are free of potholes. It also called for investment and planning around active travel to “apply an ageing lens” so that the needs of older age groups are considered.426

302.Dr Atherton said that further consideration should be given to encouraging those who are less likely to adopt active modes of transport, noting that there is little evidence to show that constructing new cycle lanes does not just increase cycling among those who are already active and affluent.427

303.The Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda provides an opportunity to invest in active travel infrastructure and improve the planning and design of our buildings, homes and public spaces to increase physical activity. We must move away from disconnected systems that result in car dependency and which make it less convenient for people to be active in their everyday life. This also includes improving access to parks, rights of way, rivers and lakes, coastal paths and national parks.

304.The Minister for Sport, Health and Wellbeing will need to work with Defra, local authorities and other stakeholders, including private landowners, to improve public access to the countryside, using opportunities such as the Environment Land Management Schemes to incentivise and improve maintenance, signage, facilities, parking and public transport options.


305.Technology is used in multiple ways to promote physical activity including smart phone apps, wearable technology and virtual classes and events. Harnessing the opportunities that technological innovations present through the national plan will be vital in facilitating active lifestyles.

306.Although adoption of fitness technology was already increasing, it accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.428 According to Sport England, nearly two-fifths (39 per cent) of adults found new ways to be active during the pandemic and 84 per cent said they intended to continue with these activities after lockdown restrictions eased.429 For example, Marcus Kingwell, CEO of EMD UK, noted that during lockdown, 23 per cent of adults were taking part in online fitness classes.430 Paul Foster, Chief Executive of The Great Run Company, said that the virtual running events—in which participants run independently and post their run online—were held to replace the physical events during lockdown periods and “reached a very different audience” including many more women.431

307.We heard that one of the ways to engage people was through the use of ‘gamification’ and ‘exergaming’ techniques.432 The University of Salford explained that the FanFit app, which encourages football fans to be more active, uses gamification techniques by allowing fans to compete with one another via league tables and offers prizes linked to football clubs as rewards.433 Shaun Azam, Chief Financial Officer of SweatCo Ltd and Dr Mark T. Elliott, Associate Professor, Institute of Digital Healthcare, WMG, University of Warwick, said that incentivising healthy behaviours by using rewards can be an effective intervention.434 The Health Ageing Research Centre, University of Manchester told us that it has developed smartphone and tablet-based technologies to assist older adults and that its exergaming techniques had helped to significantly reduce falls and fear of falling among older people. 435

308.Professor Chris Todd, Director of the National Institute for Health Research Older People and Frailty Policy Research Unit, emphasised the importance of working with target users “in the construction and creation of the app” to fit their needs and expectations.436 Anton Derlyatka, Co-founder and CEO of Sweatcoin, told us that they “work backwards”, starting with target users to understand what they need and to create an experience that is simple and personalised.437

309.We were reminded that not all apps are effective. Professor Anna Cox, lead of the GetAMoveOn Network+ network of practitioners, highlighted research which assessed whether a high rating in commercial app stores was an accurate indicator of the quality and efficacy of physical activity apps. It found “no evidence of an association between popularity and likely efficacy”.438 Professor Todd conducted a review of 7,500 apps that purported to promote physical activity and found that only six presented an evidence base in exercise interventions aimed at or for the use of older people.439

310.Professor Edwards, Professor of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition Education, University of Nottingham, told us there is a lack of evidence on the long-term effect of using technological interventions on behaviour, but caveated that the number of apps has increased rapidly and that more apps are now incorporating behaviour change theories than was the case five years ago.440 Professor Todd also told us it has been “clearly demonstrated” that apps which incorporate behaviour change theories can be effective.441

311.Professor Cox called for funding for further research to understand how behaviour change techniques can best be incorporated into physical activity apps.442 Similarly, Shaun Azam and Dr Elliott noted that there is “a need for wider research in this area, in particular around personalised incentives schemes, that optimise the level of behaviour change.”443

312.We also heard that there is scope for more public, private and research collaboration to develop fitness technology. Anton Derlyatka recommended that the public and private sector collaborate on technological interventions and called for the Government to develop “more appetite for innovation” and risk taking.444 Shaun Azam and Dr Elliott gave the example of a partnership between Sweatcoin and NHS Merton Clinical Commissioning Group to co-design a new version of their app for specific demographics as part of a diabetes prevention programme.445

313.The Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society at DCMS, Nigel Huddleston MP, acknowledged that “there is a co-ordinating role for government” in supporting technology collaboration, but at the same time “there is a financial incentive for the private sector and sports’ governing bodies themselves to take the lead”.446

Accessing facilities

314.In Chapter 2 we discussed how data can be collected to obtain a clearer picture of how and when people exercise. Technology can play a two-fold role. It can be used to improve data collection, for example by recording bookings and monitoring usage patterns. It can also be used to make facilities more accessible, for example by making it easier to book online. Sport England supports initiatives like the Open Data Institute’s Open Active programme which publishes open data about activities taking place to make it easier for people to find and book activities online.

315.Paul Foster highlighted a Sport England study that found people find it twice as easy to order takeaway food online than they do to book a sport or fitness class.447 Jamie Foale, CEO of Playfinder, told us that people are “five times more likely to make a booking for an activity if they are able to do it online” and are more likely to book facilities more often.448

316.The LTA told us about gate access technology which it developed, allowing local authorities to control access to their tennis courts remotely, take payment for court bookings where a hire fee is in place, track its usage and secure the facilities. The LTA noted that this technology streamlines the booking process and saw potential to use this system to improve access to school-based facilities.449

317.However, Reece Finnegan, a tennis player at Metro Blind Sport, highlighted some of the barriers disabled people face, telling us that some websites for booking sport and leisure facilities are not accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired.450

318.Jamie Foale called for public funding to come with the condition of having open data along with online booking systems. Open data, he argued, would enable technology innovators to build and improve online booking systems, and it could also lead to personalisation through targeting different demographics.451

319.Nigel Huddleston MP said that “there is a golden opportunity” to use technology “to enhance the physical activity experience” and improve access. He noted that, although “there are some data concerns and issues … we can overcome those or work with all stakeholders to do so”.452

Digital divide

320.Despite the potential that technology has in facilitating and promoting physical activity, we also heard about its limitations. Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy sets out its ambition to “accelerate progress” in digital interventions whilst ensuring “we don’t leave communities and audiences behind.”453

321.Dr Atherton explained that it is those who are already active and who are more affluent that buy technologies rather than those who are inactive to start with.454 Professor Dame Marteau cautioned us against “techno-optimism” and the risk of creating “intervention-generated inequalities”.455

322.Professor Todd told us that “it is very clear that there is a digital divide related to class, poverty, ethnicity and age” and pointed out that the cost of smartphones is a significant barrier to underrepresented groups. He also flagged the lack of digital skills that older age groups may have which can limit access to fitness technologies and exacerbate the digital divide.456

323.Anton Derlyatka was more confident about the potential of technology to reach underrepresented groups. He noted that “the vast majority of apps” available on Android phones and iPhones are free, and that although not everyone owns a smartphone, they are significantly more accessible compared to purchasing a wearable fitness tracker or a gym membership.457 Dr Alex Fenton, Lecturer in Digital Business at Salford Business School, University of Salford and developer of the FanFit app, agreed that smartphone technology is increasingly common and noted his own research developing the FanFit app which found that 98 per cent of football fans own an Android phone or iPhone.458

324.Some witnesses emphasised the need to offer both digital and analogue solutions to ensure everyone can access facilities and events. Paul Foster told us that it is “really important” to maintain a strong physical relationship “through all aspects of the chain for the consumer”.459 Chris Wilkins, Co-founder of Sporting Memories, told us that during the pandemic they used a “blended delivery” model which combined phone calls with online messaging and group video calls to ensure that everyone could stay engaged.460

325.Technology has the potential to transform the way people stay active and how they access facilities and physical activity opportunities. Although it has limitations, including in reaching underrepresented groups, it has the potential to incentivise physical activity at scale through methods including gamification.

326.As part of the national plan, relevant Government departments must reach out to and work with the private sector and academia to develop, trial and roll out new evidence-based apps and use open data better. The priority must be finding new ways to engage and target underrepresented groups and to bring new audiences to physical activity.

394 Q 13 (Andy Reed)

395 Written evidence from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) (NPS0035)

396 Written evidence from Hayley Lever (NPS0137)

397 Written evidence from Public Health England (NPS0125)

398 Written evidence from the Richmond Groups of Charities (NPS0141)

399 Written evidence from Versus Arthritis (NPS0042)

400 Supplementary written evidence from the Sport and Recreation Alliance (NPS0138)

401 50 (Professor Dame Theresa Marteau)

402 Supplementary written evidence from Active Partnerships (NPS0098)

403 Written evidence from Sport England (NPS0100)

404 Written evidence from Cycling UK (NPS0129)

405 Written evidence from Hayley Lever (NPS0137)

406 QQ 48–49 (Dr Kathryn Atherton)

407 Written evidence from Playing Out (NPS0052)

408 Written evidence from British Cycling Federation (NPS0083). See also Mayor of London, ‘The London Plan 2016’, Policy 3.6: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/london-plan/past-versions-and-alterations-london-plan/london-plan-2016/london-plan-chapter-three-londons-people/polic-0 [accessed 15 November 2021].

409 70 and Q 74 (Gemma Cantelo)

410 Q 70 (Gemma Cantelo)

411 Written evidence from the Country Land and Business Association (NPS0151)

412 Written evidence from the NFU (NPS0173)

413 Written evidence from Cycling UK (NPS0129)

414 Written evidence from British Canoeing (NPS0090)

415 Q 190 (Clive Copeland)

417 Department for Transport, Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (April 2017): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/918442/cycling-walking-investment-strategy.pdf [accessed 18 November 2021] and Department for Transport, Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling and walking (July 2020): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/904146/gear-change-a-bold-vision-for-cycling-and-walking.pdf [accessed 18 November 2021]

418 Written evidence from HM Government (NPS0134)

419 Ibid.

420 Written evidence from Cycling UK (NPS0129)

421 Q 70 (Sarah Mitchell) and written evidence from Cycling UK (NPS0129)

422 49 (Professor Dame Theresa Marteau)

423 Q 75 (Sarah Mitchell)

424 Written evidence from the Bikeability Trust (NPS0158)

425 75 (Gemma Cantelo)

426 Written evidence from the Centre for Ageing Better (NPS0049)

427 Q 50 (Dr Kathryn Atherton)

428 Q 167 (Anton Derlyatka) and Q 172 (Jamie Foale)

430 Q 191 (Marcus Kingwell)

431 Q 174 (Paul Foster)

432 Exergaming is a portmanteau of exercise and gaming. Gamification is the deployment of elements of game playing, such as. point scoring or competition with others to encourage engagement with a product or service.

433 Written evidence from the University of Salford (NPS0005)

434 Written evidence from Shaun Azam and Dr Mark T. Elliott (NPS0037)

435 Written evidence from the Healthy Ageing Research Group, University of Manchester (NPS0064)

436 Q 169 (Professor Chris Todd)

437 Q 169 (Anton Derlyatka)

438 Written evidence from Professor Anna Cox (NPS0045), see also Paulina Bondaronek, April Slee, Fiona L Hamilton, and Elizabeth Murray (2019) ‘Relationship between popularity and the likely efficacy: an observational study based on a random selection on top-ranked physical activity apps’, BMJ Open, vol 9, issue 11 (2019): https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/11/e027536.info.

439 Q 167 (Professor Chris Todd)

440 Q 53 (Professor Kim Edwards)

441 Q 167 (Professor Chris Todd)

442 Written evidence from Professor Anna Cox (NPS0045)

443 Written evidence from Shaun Azam and Dr Mark T Elliott (NPS0037)

444 Q 169 and Q 171 (Anton Derlyatka)

445 Written evidence from Shaun Azam and Dr Mark T Elliott (NPS0037)

446 Q 235 (Nigel Huddleston MP)

447 Q 172 (Paul Foster), see also Sport England, ‘Call for sport and physical activity sector to embrace digital revolution’ (30th April 2019): https://www.sportengland.org/news/leaders-call-on-sport-and-physical-activity-sector-to-embrace-digital-revolution [accessed 15 November 2021].

448 Q 172 (Jamie Foale)

449 Supplementary written evidence from the LTA (NPS0157)

451 Q 173 (Jamie Foale)

452 Q 235 (Nigel Huddleston MP)

454 Q 53 (Dr Kathryn Atherton)

455 Q 53 (Professor Dame Theresa Marteau)

456 Q 168 (Professor Chris Todd)

457 Q 168 (Anton Derlyatka)

458 Q 175 (Dr Alex Fenton)

459 Q 176 (Paul Foster)

460 Q 58 (Chris Wilkins)

461 Ofsted, ‘Ofsted safeguarding policy’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ofsted-safeguarding-policy/ofsted-safeguarding-policy [accessed 17 November 2021]

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