New research challenges current evidence base of exercise as medicine and calls for ‘real world’ practices to underpin clinical practice

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13 February 2015

New research challenges current evidence base of exercise as medicine and calls for 'real world' practices to underpin clinical practice

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 judge whether exercise is an effective prescription for clinical medicine and public health. 

Sport, health and exercise sciences has 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 Applied Psychology at Aberystwyth 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 argent 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."

David Stalker, CEO, 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." 


About the ukactive Research Institute 

Established in 2010, the ukactive Research Institute seeks to answer 'how can we get more people, more active, more often'? 

Answers to this question, and many others, are essential in providing sufficient evidence for agencies to concentrate resources in encouraging physical activity in the prevention and management of chronic disease. Such research is crucial in order to give a consumer the confidence that they will achieve reliable results from physical activity and exercise. 

All organisations wishing to provide physical activity are being challenged to demonstrate the effectiveness of their interventions. Academic institutions are similarly challenged to demonstrate the impact of research on the everyday delivery of activity. Recognising these challenges through its network of partners the Institute: 

  • Connects research organisations with activity providers
  • Develops and undertake a unique research programme
  • Conducts thorough literature reviews and analysis
  • Undertakes product and programme evaluations

For further information, contact Dr Steven Mann, Research Manager on or on 020 7400 8619 

About ukactive

ukactive is the UK's leading  not-for-profit health body for  the physical activity sector, with over 3,500 members from activity providers to major consumer brands, training facilities and equipment manufacturers. Members come from across the private, public and third sector and are united by ukactive's longstanding and uncompromising commitment to getting more people, more active, more often. 

ukactive facilitates big impact partnerships, conceives and drives breakthrough campaigns, conducts critical research and galvanises key stakeholders to develop and deliver key projects that support and champion the physical activity agenda. The organisation's efforts are centred around supporting a national ambition to "Turn the tide of physical inactivity".


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