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Physical activity

Friends enjoying a walk in the countryside

Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing many long-term conditions including musculoskeletal conditions, stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and mental health problems. Even a small increase in physical activity can help minimise the risk of developing a long-term condition and improve quality of life.

For people who already have a musculoskeletal condition, physical activity can be beneficial in helping to reduce the impact of the condition. The wider societal benefits of physical activity are also substantial by ensuring that people maintain their independence for longer and remain in the workplace.

The cost of inactivity

Physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for global morbidity and accounts for 5% of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in the UK. Around half the population are entirely inactive and do no sport or exercise. Even when other forms of moderate activity like gardening and housework are taken into account, the average person only does around half of the amount of activity recommended in national guidelines. People with musculoskeletal conditions are also less physically active with only 48.6% undertaking more than 30 minutes of activity per week compared to nearly three-quarters of people (72.6%) without a musculoskeletal condition.

  • The direct cost to the NHS of physical inactivity in the UK is estimated at £1.06 billion per year – an estimate which does not include the cost of musculoskeletal conditions, despite such conditions being the largest contributor to the burden of disability in the UK.
  • In the wider economy costs are also high as a result of lost productivity through sickness absence and premature death – musculoskeletal conditions are the cause of over 30 million working days lost each year.

Reducing physical inactivity, especially amongst people with musculoskeletal health conditions should be a central part of a public health approach to tackling this issue.

Arthritis Research UK has worked in collaboration with the Department of Health, NHS England, and Public Health England to identify clinically effective physical activity services. You can read our full report here (PDF 534 KB). You can also read more about our Scottish Physical activity position (PDF 523 KB) by downloading our report.

For more information, go to
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