How can we sustain our new year’s resolutions and improve the health of the country, asks Ryan Meadows

A warm welcome to Ryan Meadows who has joined our Leeds office as Senior Architect. Ryan will be bolstering our healthcare team and brings with him a wealth of experience.

As we move into February and new year resolutions have fallen by the wayside, Ryan discusses whether in the not-so-distant future, many more of us will be popping to our local hospital to use its health club facilities.

The festive period already seems a distant memory, but it is a perfect analogy for many of the ills that currently beleaguer society. It is far too easy to eat too much and sit in front of the TV, feel momentarily guilty for not taking the dog for a walk, before letting him out in the garden whilst you console yourself with another mince pie.

Society has evolved at a tremendous rate over the last couple of centuries. Food rich in nutrients and calories is instantly available to most of us. Improvements in transportation and technology in the home and workplace mean we no longer need to sweat, toil or even walk much as part of our daily routine. In short, life has become more ‘comfortable’.

The problem is the rate at which society has changed. Our bodies are not adapted to thrive in this new ‘comfortable’ society. They are made to run, climb, forage and carry. They need this physical activity just to maintain normal function, never mind burn the excessive amounts of hollow calories we consume every day.

As a former personal trainer and health club manager, I frequently met people who had been advised by a health professional to take some form of regular exercise: rehabilitation following heart surgery or a hip replacement; to increase mobility or flexibility; to decrease cholesterol levels; or to lose weight before a standard operation. The common denominator amongst most of those referrals was that exercise was prescribed after the damage had been done.

Exercise is proven to be beneficial for treating depression, maintaining a healthy bodyweight and slowing the onset of dementia. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. Obesity-related illness alone costs the NHS £6bn per year. And yet, the UK health and fitness industry with a membership of only 10 million has an annual turnover of circa £5bn.

Is it time to consider a closer marriage between healthcare and health and fitness?

Several private healthcare providers – most notably Nuffield Health – have successfully combined providing clinical care with health and fitness facilities in the same business model. Clearly an already stretched NHS does not have the resources to follow suit. But with hospital trusts across the country trying to find additional revenue streams and concessions becoming a regular sight in hospital lobbies, how much of a stretch would it be to incorporate space for a small to medium-sized health club into future estate strategies? The benefits could be numerous: onsite facilities for NHS staff to utilise; co-ordination with physiotherapy and rehabilitation services; and opportunities for the pre-emptive prescription of exercise, all resulting in increased revenue for the hospital. Most importantly, it would provide an opportunity to strengthen the link between fitness and health – and help educate society on the importance of regular physical activity.

In the not-so-distant future, could we see the NHS become the National Health and Fitness Service?