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Blog: We need to redefine the art of the possible

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Posted 3rd December 2019

Every year I look forward to what might be happening as part of International Day of People with Disabilities, writes James Brown, Yorkshire Sport Foundation Director of Local Support and Partnerships.

This is a day for us to look towards a future where the barriers which stand in people’s way no longer exist in an inclusive and accessible environment, whatever that might be. Sport and physical activity has so much to offer. Not only for the individual taking part but also for the ‘ripple effect’ across lots of different areas of our culture and society.

The ripple effect is a theme that is explored further in our latest podcast with the International Mixed Ability Sport (IMAS) team. I am constantly inspired by their work in supporting and educating us on the power of mixed ability opportunities and environments. The story of the two Anthony’s demonstrates what can be achieved in a community when we work together to challenge and remove barriers to participation.

We do have a challenge to face. It reminds me of a blog I wrote earlier in the year and here are some of the points repeated again. A long term condition (LTC) or disability makes us twice as likely to be physically inactive. 41% of people with living with a LTC or disability are inactive compared to 20% of people with no LTC or disability. A physical health condition also makes us more likely to develop mental health problems, and vice versa.

We all know that there are many barriers to being active, both perceived and real. Almost half of people with a LTC or disability (47%) fear losing their benefits if they seem or appear to be ‘too active’ – and of these same people rely on their benefits to be active in the first place. This is quite shocking and shows the reality of some of the systems working against us. In addition, people don’t always feel welcomed in organised sessions or in a facility; they might think that being active is impossible for them.

But we also know that 70% of people want to be more active and evidence shows that they would be, if advised by a healthcare professional. So, the question is, how can we work together and create the conditions for change?

We need to make sure we all have the capability, opportunity and motivation to move more. Healthcare professionals can play a crucial role in this area. We sometimes require reassurance and permission to be active. People need to feel confident, and safe in the knowledge that they are doing the best for themselves and their health.

There can be a huge loss of confidence in our own body when we have a health diagnosis, injury or disability. From a personal perspective this loss of confidence was the thing that surprised me the most. It seeps into other areas of your life and effects mental wellbeing as well as physical health. Mixed messages about what is best for our health can be confusing. This is why the nudge and recommendation to be active from trusted professionals is so important.

It doesn’t need to be much, we know services are extremely stretched at the moment, so we need to get the systems right so that we can signpost to further support and discussion. How well is physical activity embedded into the emerging link worker and social prescribing schemes through the Primary Care Networks? What can we do to support this locally? If we work together across all sectors, organisations and professions we can get the right messages delivered at the right time.

How can we open these often difficult conversations and then consistently build physical activity into our advice and support? How are professionals then supported to provide a personalised approach to fit the lives and motivations of those they help?

We learned through our Creating Connections programme that the biggest change in activity levels is seen between 3-6 months when there is regular support and motivation for individuals. It’s not going to happen with one conversation but that is why we should keep building the value of moving more into all conversations.

We need to redefine the art of the possible, not only for the individual but also in their support structures, including family, friends and social connections.

A message that keeps coming back is that if we don’t talk about physical activity, we may as well be saying ‘inactivity is ok’. Let’s change that. Things are moving in the right direction. As an Active Partnership we have been working with Sport England, Public Health England and a range of health care leaders (such as the Royal College of General Practitioners) to support the Moving Healthcare Professionals programme. There isn’t space to include all the information here so there are links to some of the elements of the programme below.

We are working across local Primary Care Networks, and other structures, to collect stories and understand the impact of some of these programmes. Please do contact us for more information, especially if you would like to get involved across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.

We can work together to make the change if we can support healthcare professionals feel confident in delivering physical activity messages. We can collectively build systems to support people who want more information, help providers deliver welcoming, inclusive, and open sessions. But we can’t do this alone, we need the environments to be supportive; facilities need to be accessible; people need to be able to travel freely in their communities; financial systems need to work for us not against us.

Things can change as long as we’re all in this together, whatever our ability.

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