Exercise research needs to show real life relevancy

03 March 2016

A new academic paper by leading minds in exercise science, Death by Effectiveness: Exercise as Medicine Caught in the Efficacy Trap!, published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, calls into question the methods we currently use to evaluate the effectiveness of exercise in public health.

The sport, health and exercise sciences have long heralded the medicinal value of exercise and lobbied for its wider use as a public health intervention. Use of exercise is especially justified they argue, given its low cost in the face of the increasing economic burden of treating preventable non-communicable disease in the UK, a burden that many believe will lead to the demise of the NHS.

However, two major 2014 reports by the All Party Commission on Physical Activity and Public Health England are critical of the evidence base for exercise. In response, an editorial published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, authored by a team of experts from the ukactive Research Institute lead by Dr Chris Beedie, Reader in Clinical Exercise Science in the School of Human and Life Sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University, argues that too many researchers conduct studies in laboratories and that the findings of these studies do not translate to real world practice.

Death by Effectiveness:  Exercise as Medicine Caught in the Efficacy Trap! also suggests that what work is conducted in the field all too often does not report clinically relevant health data. As the result, in an increasingly evidence based health landscape, medical practitioners and public health commissioners who need confidence that exercise is as effective as many competing interventions, are faced with a worrying lack of hard evidence.

The editorial suggests that the sports and exercise sciences are complacent in not providing policy relevant research and urges an urgent and concerted response from all those interested in enhancing the health of the UK population.

Dr Chris Beedie commented, “In controlled trials, the power of exercise to improve health and ward off disease has been demonstrated beyond question. It is, however, a serious concern that this evidence does not translate well into real life settings in our communities. Unless better evidence is provided, the credibility of exercise as a public health tool could be seriously undermined.”

Dr Steven Mann, Director of Research at ukactive commented: “We simply cannot afford to indulge in ‘bad science’ any longer. This controversial piece of work cuts to the heart of the need to develop the right kind of measures to support what the physical activity sector should be delivering alongside public health and medical services.”

Notes to editors

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With almost 18,000 students across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • 95% of our UK graduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.

*2012/13 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey


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Last edited: 14/12/2018 22:56:00