How Sheffield doctor's surgeries are helping patients get more active - with amazing results

Anyone remember the ‘new normal’?

After the initial shock of the new pandemic, the idea gained currency that working from home and going out for a daily walk or bike ride, then strolling to your local greengrocer while chatting cheerily to neighbours across the empty road might be how everyday life will look in the Outdoor City forevermore.The government sent emergency money to councils willing to make it happen, which all made sense to health professionals.“The World Health Organisation says physical activity is the best buy you can have for public health,” said Birley GP Andy Douglas.

“Day in, day out as a GP you see all the problems of people not being active enough for good health, which really affects a wide range of health conditions including cancers, heart and lung disease and general mental wellbeing.”Last year Sheffield Hallam University worked out that for every £1 spent helping people become more active, there’d be a £3.91 public benefit through improvements to physical and mental health, the economy and community development.This month, Andy and colleagues from the city’s Move More initiative launched an ‘Active Practice’ programme for Sheffield medical centres.“I think Move More Active Practice is important both at a practice and citywide level,” said Andy’s colleague, Wincobank GP Jo Maher.

“There is no doubt about the health benefits, it’s knowing how to actually integrate this into practice that is the challenge - what we don’t have yet is the environment and infrastructure for physical activity to be a simple choice for us all.”The Active Practice scheme asks medical centres to help staff and patients to get more active, with local examples including lunchtime walking groups and dozens of GPs and medical centres buying e-bikes for visits and travel to work.Staff and patients at Meadowgreen Health Centre in Jordanthorpe recently walked the collective distance from Lands End to John O’Groats and almost back again, while Whitehouse Surgery on the Manor set up a ‘circuit’ class for pensioners to work out together.“It was amazing,” said Andy Douglas. “We found people coming to the class weren’t coming to the GP any more.”Apart from the physical benefits, it’s now known that physical activity also addresses many mental health issues, he said.“For things like anxiety and depression, physical activity has an extremely effective anti-depressant effect, which is enhanced when it’s done in a social group. And when people feel better, they don’t go to the doctors as much.”But with all the other jobs on hand, knowledge about all this is often slow to pass through to primary care, so Andy hopes the Active Practice idea will help Sheffield’s doctors and nurses and surgery office staff spread ideas about how physical activity can save time and money for the NHS while making staff and patients healthier and happier.Practices have nine months to get going, with the inaugural gold, silver and bronze Move More Active Practice accolades to be awarded next June. (See: and Andy recently joined more than 600 local health professionals in a petition asking Sheffield Council to retain, on public health grounds, one of the new city centre walking and cycling routes, currently the subject of a fractious council debate about whether a new normal of a city centre full of trees and plants and walking citizens should be promoted or reduced in favour of a return for motor vehicles outside the Town Hall.“There was a huge response in a short time from people working in health and social care to support retention of space for walking and cycling in the city centre,” said Jo. “I hope creative solutions can be drawn from cities around the globe to make Sheffield centre an appealing and usable space for everyone, both now and in the future.”“It would be nice to see Sheffield embracing an evidence-based and progressive way of looking after our health, of preventing ill health by promoting health actively,” said Andy. “This city really feels like a place with the enthusiasm to do that.”

GPs with electric bikes at Sloan Medical Centre.
GP Andy Douglas of the Move More Active Practice initiative.
GP Andy Douglas of the Move More Active Practice initiative.
GPs Andy Douglas and Jo Maher before the Covid 19 outbreak.
LtoR, Jemma Robinson, Jack Bradwell, Dr James Gray Dr Lumin Ogbuagu, Callum Yau at Meadowgreen Health Centre.
GP Jo Maher of the Move More Active Practice initiative.