COVID leads to serious falls in fitness levels

A leading Essex doctor has spoken of the urgency of addressing falling fitness levels following a year of lockdown.

The major impact the pandemic has had on physical activity levels across Essex and the urgent need to bring about a county-wide post-COVID upsurge in physical activity has sparked the need to expedite the development of ‘Fit for the Future’ – a new physical activity scheme being promoted by Essex County Council.

Ronan Fenton, medical director for Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, told ECC’s health and wellbeing board on Wednesday, April 28, of concerns amongst doctors around how falling “conditioning” is leading to wider-physical problems. He added that this is impacting the ability of patients to recover well after operations they are now having.

Doctor Fenton said: “It’s not about weightlifting. It’s about walking your kid to school. It is about small changes that make a big difference in an individual’s life.” He added that encouraging even a small change “can make a big difference”.

The ‘Fit for the Future’ programme includes promoting the diverse range of physical activity services, programmes and projects currently being delivered, as well as a new 10-year strategy for physical activity and sport in Essex and a new Essex-wide social marketing campaign to activate the new strategy.

But Doctor Fenton said the issue needs tackling over the next six-months.

He said: “It is needed right now and to put that in context there is an immediacy about this.

“I am hearing from primary care colleagues that link with the clinical director for the primary care networks. They are telling me that right now they are worried about the conditioning they are seeing among their patients and people who have not moved very much in the last year due to lockdowns.

“They are quite worried about the increase in physical issues because of this and increase in mental health issues because of this.

“I am also hearing from my secondary care colleagues about their concerns about deconditioning and the impact that has on recovery after operations they are now having.

“So there are both immediate issues in the next six-months to a year which requires us all to put our shoulders behind the wheel and of course there is the long term goal that increasing physical activity does to increase healthy lifestyles and enjoyment of a life well lived.

“I just think that colleagues are aware of the immediate urgency in terms of the results of the COVID lockdown that is potentially going to drive increase mental health issues increase long term condition development, increase post operation complications and increased frailty and ultimately a decrease quality of life for our 1.2 million population.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter