Exercise is made easier with support from others
“We’ve seen the value of physical activity for years and years,” said the Heeley GP, whose Sloan Medical Centre launched the Graves parkrun as a community effort to benefit staff and patients ten years ago.
“Exercise is not easy, but doing it with groups and people who support each other really helps,” he said.
The local Move More activity initiative, which has itself been busy in the city for the best part of ten years, recently brought some of its findings together in the Active Practice network where doctors and other medical staff share how they’ve used physical activity to help patients, and work together on walking, cycling and even running activities like supporting local parkruns.
The government trials will focus on increasing active travel in 11 local authority areas in England, including Nottingham, Bradford, Doncaster and Leeds, and will include initiatives like free bike loans (already offered in Sheffield through the CycleBoost project at https://cycleboost.org ) and walking for health and mental health initiatives, like the hugely successful 20 year old Step Out Sheffield project (https://www.stepoutsheffield.co.uk).
Leeds will receive £1,373,444 for its trial schemes, for example. But Ollie and colleagues have just been getting on with it, not least because they know physical activity is an effective treatment for many conditions - he cites cancer prevention, chronic pain, arthritis and cardiovascular disease, treatment and prevention, for example, along with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression where physical activity has been shown to be more effective than drug treatments.
Doctors have always appreciated the benefits of being active, he says, but up until recently have felt it was not really their place to prescribe exercise, and instead to prioritise the ‘clever’ things like prescribing.
“But we realise now that if we want to be effective. we have to do the things that really make a difference.”
Ollie was sitting on a new sign on the Sheaf Valley active travel route, just off Abbeydale Road announcing the ‘road closures’ on Little London Road and Rydal Road are actually, as he puts it “giving priority to people cycling, walking scooting and wheeling, and to families and children.”
He concedes there is initially a ‘furore’ about such schemes as motorists find them inconvenient, at least until the dust settles. “But in a way that’s how they’re supposed to be, because we want to make it more convenient and attractive for the things that are good for you in the long run.”
He now uses the route for his own cycle commute to work, and says he’s seeing a lot less motor traffic, and more families and kids out and about. If we want to see more people walking, cycling and wheeling, creating routes that feel safe enough for a 12 year old to negotiate on their own is the first step, he said, citing one of the working definitions of a modern travel route used by Active Travel England commissioner, Chris Boardman.
Ollie says there are difficult decisions ahead, and Sheffielders need to have a rational discussion about what we want our city to be. “The question for me is do we want our spaces in Sheffield to feel like rat runs for cars, or safe places for people to enjoy life?”
Ollie chatted to nearby garage owner Peter Lindley, who’s been critical of the effectiveness of the Sheaf Valley scheme, but said himself that he was keen to see safety improve for families on nearby Langdale Road, whose home environment has been blighted by drivers speeding illegally down the one way street.
“My kids are older teenagers now, but I’d feel comfortable to see them cycling down here now as 12 year olds,” said Ollie. “And that’s what we want in our city, isn’t it?”