The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

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One of the biggest challenges surrounding public health:

encouraging people to embrace and enjoy a less sedentary lifestyle.

...encouraging people to embrace and enjoy a less sedentary lifestyle.

As almost daily news stories tell us, a lack of exercise coupled with a poor diet is resulting in UK citizens becoming increasingly obese, with all the consequent health problems this brings.

Physiotherapists are the experts in human movement. As such, they occupy a unique position in terms of disseminating public health initiatives that promote increasing safe and effective physical activity. In addition, physios have a role, individually and as part of a team, to raise awareness of the link between diet, exercise and health.

Public health is about supporting the development of practices and policies to promote the well-being of individuals, groups and communities. But health is not just about physical well-being; it's about an individual's mental and emotional welfare too. Here, it's important to remember that increasing physical activity influences mental health: with a positive effect on depression, mood, emotion and self-esteem.

Encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their own health is another sizeable hurdle to overcome. No one wants a nanny state telling us what we can and cannot do. However, there is a worrying trend within healthcare to rely on a pill or potion to make us feel better, rather than working through necessary lifestyle changes - or physio-prescribed therapeutic exercise.

Taking responsibility for your own health can be a difficult and lengthy, even painful, process. Yet, making 'healthy choices' now rather than banking on future miracle interventions, is the best choice possible. For any public health programme to work, individuals need empowering to make these healthy choices - and to understand why it's crucial to do this. Consequently, education is a vital component of public health strategies. Physios have an educational role to play too. There is a responsibility to emphasise preventive policies and provide advice. Finally, there is a need to consider how to redesign services to support public health initiatives in education, preventing illness and empowering the individual to make healthy choices.

Physiotherapists are well-placed to do all of the above in primary, secondary and specialist care centres. The question that really requires answering is: 'How influential would physios like to be?' A prompt answer is needed.

Catherine Blackledge, editor

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