RSPH and ukactive have called for GP drop-in and smoking cessation services inside gyms and leisure centres, to help ease pressure on local health facilities and improve access to health improvement services.
A majority of gym users (53%) would be comfortable accessing these services, according to research conducted by RSPH and ukactive, and supported by Technogym. The recommendation forms part of a new joint report exploring how fitness professionals can play an enhanced role in supporting the public’s health, entitled Going the Distance: Exercise professionals in the wider public health workforce.
Approximately 400,000 people work in fitness in Britain, representing a huge untapped resource for public health. The report captures the views of exercise professionals, gym-users and senior learning and development directors in the sector.
ukactive and RSPH also urged the fitness sector to pilot exercise classes aimed at improving mental wellbeing, making greater use of the proven benefits to mental health from physical activity. The report found that almost four in five gym users (77%) said they would support such classes.
Researchers discovered appetite among the public for exercise professionals to offer vital interventions that could keep Britons healthy and away from hospital at a time of increasing long-term pressures on the NHS.
The research highlights an urgent need for local authority public health teams, GP surgeries and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to establish and maintain closer ties with local fitness facilities – ensuring a more joined-up approach to public health.
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “In a climate of ongoing cuts to public health budgets, it has been acknowledged for some time that the public health challenges currently facing the nation are too great to be tackled by the core public health workforce alone. As such, developing, upskilling and empowering other workforces with the opportunity to improve public health has become a vital focus of RSPH’s work.
“As this report demonstrates, exercise professionals have a great opportunity to be an active part of this wider public health workforce, and there is appetite from the public for this to happen. Our recommendations set out a blueprint for making this ambition a reality, in a way that is effective and evidence-based.”
ukactive CEO Steven Ward said: “This report demonstrates a clear appetite among both the public and exercise professionals in the fitness sector to play a greater role in addressing public health challenges.
“The potential for our workforce to augment our health system with timely interventions is game-changing – it is now important we give fitness professionals the tools, knowledge and qualifications to deliver for public health.”