So here is a record of my search for official advice on exercise to see whether it is clearly presented and easy to find. I will do this in two posts. The first will look at the sources of information on the Web; the second will look at the content of the advice and its consistency.
Sources of Information
1) Directgov is designed to be the citizens portal for government information and advice and is the obvious place to start. The front page has a link to a index page on 'health and wellbeing', where there is a section for 'healthy living' but this doesn't have exercise as a subheading so the only option is a click to another index page: 'more about healthy living'. Here again there is nothing about exercise I can go to 'Change4life' but there is also a heading 'sports facilities and events', which seems at first to be unlikely. Strangely it is what is needed as it contains links to:
keeping fit (young peoples section);
staying physically active (pensions and retirement planning section);
fitness advice on NHS Choices.
At last some information!
There was of course no need to go through the linky links, there is a search box. The search term 'exercise' threw up the 'sports facilities and events' page as the first hit but I ignored it because, at the time, I thought the strap line 'Find a local gym or sports facility and look up local and national sporting events' made it seem irrelevant. However I did strike gold because the next hit was a newslink to the 2004 report by the Chief Medical Officer's on exercise, which I was able to download from the DoH site.
(Totally by the way their search engine is a bit weird. The results for 'exercise recommendations' or 'exercise guidelines' offered 'NHS to offer acupuncture for back pain' as the first result)
2) Change4life. Apparently the Government is spending £75m on this campaign to encourage us to eat more healthily and exercise more. So surely this must be the place for good advice. It is aimed at families so presumably it's written to advise parents on what's good for them and their kids, ie its supposed to be read by adults.
Oh the bright colours! Oh the perky language! It makes you feel like you are being talked at by the presenters of Playdays. Here is the introduction to 'Why Change4Life?'
Well done! Visiting this site is your first step in making a Change4Life, and you're not alone. Lots of people like you are already enjoying making a Change4Life! The way we live nowadays means a lot of us, especially our kids, have fallen into unhelpful habits. This means all of us need to make small changes to eat well, move more, and live longer.
There is so much I could say about this but I will restrict myself to one small question. Why 'unhelpful' when the obvious word is unhealthy? Sometimes a single word can show a rottenness of thought behind the writing. Here is how they explain why we should encourage our kids to be more active:
Activity raises kids’ heartbeats and helps pump blood around their bodies. It’s like a mini workout for their lungs and muscles! It also decreases their chances of getting life-threatening diseases.
I am comatose with despair!
3) NHS Choices LiveWell. This fitness section is a proper grown-up site and actually quite good. The information on the why and how of exercise is clearly laid out and there is a good range of side links to supporting information (eg a link to Sustrans to help people get cycling and a video wall of tips from Olympic athletes). This is the place to find the Government's advice but this is not the end of the story because there are always other places to look.
4) More from NHS Choices. Entering the term 'exercise' in the search box brings up many more pages of advice that are not linked-to from the fitness site. A lot of them are plain pages of text and are thus probably excluded for looking a bit dull but they contain good, solid information. This on what type of exercise? is a good example. ( on a side note this page is not only dated it shows when it will next be reviewed. I wish this practice was more common)
5) Department of Health. This has more background information to support the exercise campaigns. From here you can Chief Medical Officers report as well as the NICE guidelines for health professionals on increasing physical activity. There is also the action plan published february this year, which brings together both the advice and plans to increase activity. This has to be done because the shocking statistics found in these documents show that:
Around 65% of men and 76% of women are not physically active enough to meet national guidelines (to be at least moderately active for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days a week). 30% of boys and 39% of girls aged 2–15 years do not achieve the recommended physical activity levels for their age (at least 60 minutes of at least moderate- intensity physical activity each day).
Between 1995–97 and 2005, the average distance walked had dropped from 200 to 197 miles per person, per year. The average distance cycled fell from 43 to 36 miles per person per year.
6) Behind the Headlines This is a brilliant NHS site that looks at the actual research findings behind health stories in the news and puts them into context and assess how significant they might be. Although this is not the place for the official government advice it is worth checking So far they have analysed 243 stories related to lifestyle and exercise. If searching for articles about exercise it is important to remember that the search engine covers the whole of the NHS Choices site and so the phrase 'behind the headlines' should be included in the search.
7) NICE. As well as the guidelines for health professionals I mentioned earlier, NICE have produced a report on creating physical environments that support increased levels of physical activity. It can be downloaded from this page, where you can also have access to their background information. This is one of the fundamental issues and shows how any attempt to change peoples pattern of behaviour has far reaching ramification that reach into many other areas of government.
8) NHS Evidence In my rather sad way I got quite excited when I found this search portal for health information that covers published, research, grey literature, guidelines and reports. The results page gives the option of refining by type of publication.
9) Other Bodies. There are all sorts of other bodies that have some sort of stake in physical activity from the well known such as Sports England or slightly more esoteric like the Outdoor Health Forum but I feel that I am wandering away from the core subject of official advice into a thicket of bureaucratic bodies and background information and I know that madness lies there. However I must pass-on my favourite line from the website of the Physical Activity Alliance "Currently, the Alliance has no formal status; there is no legal entity; there are no staff, no premises, no agreed strategy or delivery plan/programme." Brilliant!