A new report published by the North East Coastal Active Partnership is highlighting physical inactivity, which is now linked to the same number of deaths as smoking. Trevor Smith reports

The North East Coastal Active Partnership comprises of six Active Partnerships (RISE, County Durham Sport, Tees Valley Sport, North Yorkshire Sport, Active Humber and Active Lincolnshire), which have joined forces to tackle longstanding inequalities in physical activity along the North East coast.

NECAP has written to Sport England with a report outlining the enormous challenge posed by inactivity and calling for support to turn the tide on physical inactivity in the region.

The region faces significant inequalities – not only related to physical activity – but also in the wider determinants of health and wellbeing, such as education, employment, crime and housing. These inequalities have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and historic underinvestment in northern coastal communities.

Whilst the impact of Covid-19 has been felt in all areas of society, many of our coastal communities have faced the brunt of this crisis due to the existing inequalities that were already embedded along the North East coast. On a positive note, work has started on new projects in Crimdon and Seaburn, which is certainly a move in the right direction. However, much greater funding and collaborative effort is needed.

Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths and costs the UK £7.4bn annually (Public Health England, 2019). Physical inactivity rates along the North East coast are amongst the highest in the UK.

According to the NECAP report, 28 per cent of adults in County Durham are inactive. In Lincolnshire the figure is even higher at 30.2 per cent. The inactivity rate for England is lower at 24.6 per cent (Active Lives, Sport England 2018/19).

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If you look at the bottom ten Active Partnerships for inactivity levels, 50 per cent of those Active Partnerships are along the North East coast…we truly are an inactive place compared to other parts of England.

By tackling physical inactivity, not only can we improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities, but we can also improve educational outcomes, community cohesion, and boost the economy.

This leads to the question, why are we in this position?

Long standing socio-economic inequality and associated health inequalities are a huge problem in the North-East and unfortunately act as barriers to physical activity engagement.

What we need is culture change – for physical activity to become the norm for everyone regardless of background, ability, or health-status. Funded collaboration between the NECAP Active Partnerships would contribute to this culture change, through education, signposting, and embedding physical activity into existing structures.

The NECAP report calls on Sport England to recognise and help tackle coastal inactivity through funding and collaboration. Given the enormity of the challenge, no one Active Partnership can succeed alone – we must pull together: sharing expertise, experience and resources to work towards a shared solution.

This is not a simple bid for cash but much more about changing the way we all work in a collaborative way across an area that has largely been ignored by a whole variety of Government and National agencies. The area has struggled to make its voice heard on the challenges it faces.

County Durham Sport’s managing director, Dr Maxine Rhodes, said: “County Durham has some beautiful coastline and being out in nature can really help us cope with the stresses of life. By working with our partners in the County Council and across the region, we can utilise the natural assets of the region as part of the solution to coastal inactivity.”

This is something that I am a strong believer in. If you have the outdoor space near you, then utilise it. There is nothing that we as a family, love more than a walk along a beautiful beach or through the woods.

We are incredibly lucky in the North-East to have such a rich choice of natural beauty right on our doorstep. Physical activity doesn’t have to be about joining a gym or an aerobics class or buying an exercise bike and staying indoors. A run, walk or cycle along the coastal path will work just as well and the fresh air and being surrounded by nature will do more for your emotional wellbeing than being indoors, so let us all make a start together and get out there.

The full NECAP report can be accessed at https://indd.adobe.com/view/9a99bd6f-f821-4502-b392-6850b624f587

n Trevor works at Premier Education supporting primary schools to improve children’s health and wellbeing through active learning. Email tsmith@premier-education.com or follow Trevor on Twitter @TSmith_PE