How to Encourage People with Long-Term Conditions to Be More Active

In September 2019, Sport England launched their new We Are Undefeatable campaign. This campaign aims to encourage people with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, to be more active.

The campaign is hugely important because activity has been shown to both help manage long-term conditions, as well as delay the onset and reduce the severity of further health conditions.

Despite this, people with long-term conditions are twice as likely to be inactive.

Learning from the We Are Undefeatable Campaign

The We Are Undefeatable campaign has some unique challenges when it comes to making people active. Barriers to activity are hugely important to understand and can vary greatly from person to person.

Understanding an individual’s circumstances is the only way to truly make a difference.

Research by Sport England suggests that the usual barriers to activity, such as time and money, are just as relevant to people with long-term conditions. Furthermore, the research finds that condition related barriers such as pain and fatigue compound the usual barriers to make physical activity even less accessible.

59% of people surveyed listed pain as one of the top three barriers to physical activity.

Changing the Behaviour of Someone with a Long-Term Condition

So how can we help to change the behaviour of someone with a long-term condition?

Here at Active Devon we are big proponents of the COM-B model of behaviour change. This model says there are three elements to consider if you would like to change someone’s behaviour.

These elements take on a particular shape when it comes to people with long-term conditions, Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation.

Capability – How Capable People Feel to Be Active, Both Psychologically and Physically

People with a long-term condition in particular may feel their condition means they have to rest. The important thing to remember is there will be good days and bad days.

Make the most of the good days with activity and accept that some days it will not be possible.

Adults with a health condition are less likely to strongly agree or agree than people without health conditions, that they ‘feel they have the ability to be physically active’ (29.7% vs 81.7%).

What can we do?

  • Show people being active with their health condition
  • Re-frame physical activity – it is not all vigorous
  • Deliver the activity message from a trusted source – e.g. ‘people like me’ and health professionals

Opportunity – How Much People Think They Have the Physical and Social Opportunity to Be Active

Here it is worth thinking about whether there may be a group of people with the same condition already doing activity e.g. Dragon Boating with other people who have experienced breast cancer, or football with other diabetic players.

Adults with a health condition are less likely to strongly agree or agree than people without health conditions, that they ‘feel they have the opportunity to be active’ (44.9% vs 72.7%).

What can we do?

  • Connect people who have the same health condition together
  • Celebrate every victory, big or small – even regularly going for a walk can have health benefits
  • Give a positive message, but make sure it is realistic

Motivation – How Motivated People Are to Be Active

Do people realise all the benefits that they could get from activity?

Adults with a health condition are less likely to strongly agree or agree than people without health conditions, that they ‘find sport/exercise satisfying’ (55.3% vs 76.7%).

What can we do?

  • Clearly explain that even small increases in physical activity can have a positive benefit
  • Frame exercise as a form of rebellion against the health condition
  • In addition to health benefits, people with long-term conditions have different reasons for wanting to be more active e.g. “I want to stay strong so I can play with my grandkids”

The We Are Undefeatable campaign is a real opportunity to make a difference to people who would really benefit from activity.

If you would like to read more stories about how people with long-term conditions stay active, go to the We Are Undefeatable website.

*All stats and figures are taken from the Sport England We Are Undefeatable Insight Pack, which you can access when you register to the We are Undefeatable Supporters Hub.

“Find ways to move that work for you. Find something you enjoy as you’re more likely to keep doing it.”  We Are Undefeatable

Tim Howard – Data and Insight Officer