To mark National Fitness Day 2017, Olympian and Head of Learning Design at Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, Adam Whitehead, blogs about how behaviour change can solve inactivity.

Ask a group of young people to list the risks of being inactive.

The overwhelming majority would be able to do this with ease – even if nothing more than pointing towards good physical and mental health.

Ask the same group if they are currently active themselves; and you are likely to receive a less convincing answer.

In the UK, over 4.5 million young people are currently failing to meet the recommend levels of physical activity, as outlined by the Chief Medical Officer.

Interestingly, the quality of teaching around the subject in schools has grown significantly in recent years, as have opportunities for children to engage in physical activity within the curriculum.

This generation of young people understand the link between leading a sedentary lifestyle and poor health outcomes (along with a host of other risk factors), probably better than any of their predecessors.

So, why do so many remain inactive, when the benefits are so widely accepted? If it is not through a lack of education, where does the issue lie?

Academics are increasingly proving that awareness and knowledge around the benefits of physical activity are not enough to influence change. For example, an evaluation of the government’s ‘Change for Life’ campaign suggests an enhanced awareness, but little change in attitudes or behaviour.

Education only becomes meaningful if those being taught have the mindset and attitudes to enforce it and become empowered to take responsibility for their health.

Before we change behaviour though, we must first change attitudes.

This is not conforming to the stereotype that all teenagers are lethargic and inactive through choice. The issue is much more complex and circumstantial.

At Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, we actively work with some of the most disadvantaged young people in our society. Last year we ran programmes for care leavers, homeless people, young offenders, women at risk of sexual exploitation and those living within isolated communities.

The reasons they often arrive on our programmes demotivated, un-focused and lacking low levels of self-esteem is usually down to factors outside their control, specific to their past or current circumstances.

There is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that individually-tailored interventions – such as goal setting and personal, social, emotional development – is associated with increased levels of physical activity.

Quite simply; there is no one size fits all solution to this issue.

Far too often in this country we operate a conveyer belt approach in an attempt to fix problems.

This can work in the short-term, however to create sustainable change requires a more tailored and individual approach, particularly amongst the most disadvantaged in our society.

Make no mistake, unlocking the attitudes needed to influence a young person’s behaviour is not straight forward – let’s not forget we are creatures of habit. However, it is the only way to consistently deliver transformational change, to both individuals and also communities.

Mentoring, from trained individuals who have realised these attitudes and behaviours throughout their life, offers the best chance of success. Working within a clear framework and theory of change I have seen first-hand this approach completely flip a young person’s activity levels and become a habit for life.

Importantly, we also need to stop viewing inactivity in isolation to other issues that prevent young people from leading a positive life.

Although I dislike the word, the solution lies in adopting a holistic approach.

If you can unlock key attitudes, such as confidence, motivation, determination, focus and resilience in a young person will they become receptive to positive behaviour change; not just towards activity, but across all aspects of their life.

It is very rare I meet a young person who exhibits all the above traits towards their education, career or other activities, however fails to realise the importance of adopting a healthy, active and balanced lifestyle (regardless of whether they have a passion for physical activity or sport).

Solving inactivity, has the potential to solve other problems. And solving other problems, has the potential to solve inactivity.

It is all a matter of mindset; and changing this in our young people is where the solution lies.