Environmental influences on health, exercise and fitness

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Environmental Influences on Health, Exercise and Fitness.

by Gavin Curry

People are complex beings who live complex lives. We do not live in isolation from our surroundings, and even the most shy or introverted among us must interact with our environment and society. An individual’s health is affected through numerous different aspects of life. Throughout this report we will identify some of the many aspects of an individuals environment which affects their health.

The environment may be considered in two aspects; the physical and the social.

Physical Factors Influencing Health and Fitness

Some of the physical factors will include references to the individuals sanitation services and whether or not the waste disposal or sewage systems are adequate enough. Other factors include the effect of a clean water supply and the possibilities of adding certain chemicals to the water for the promotion of well-being.

Environmental factors in health, exercise and fitnessFurther physical factors include climate and the geographical location you happen to live in within the world, for example the potential risks associated with a sunny environment, such as skin cancer, must be taken into consideration.

Social Factors Influencing Health and Fitness

An individual’s social environment also affects their health in many different ways. Factors here include the way in which an individuals working environment presents many potential dangers with almost any form of employment. This can range from repetitive strain injury in the office place, to stress related illness in the customer care industries, and ranging to labouring jobs such as coal miners being at high risk of breathing problems.


Another point to consider is the aspect of a person’s socio-cultural environment on their health. These factors include ethnic differences such as dieting differences between traditional eastern foods and western foods.
An individual’s direct social interactions can also play a major part. This can include family relationships, friends, and peers in the school or work place. These relationships can produce negative peer pressure and potential bullying.

Financial Factors Influencing Health and Fitness

A final set of factors influencing health and fitness are financial factors, which can have an indirect but important affect on health. Whether or not an individual comes from a middle class background will often determine whether they will live in a safer housing area, eat more nutritionally balanced food and be able to afford more essential items such as central heating or air conditioning.

Combined Role of Environmental Health Factors

In exploring the effect of this wide range of environmental factors on health, we must also consider how the factors are intertwined as there is often a relation between these factors.

We will start by looking at the individuals working environment as it can have a massive effect on their health, There is a vast range of employment opportunities in society today, and associated with this is a vast difference in occurrence of factors which can effect health.

In Britain in 1995 it is estimated that 2 million people suffered from work related illness with around 20 million working days being lost to ill health (DoH, 1999). These factors also have many social implications as the amount and severity of illness was not equally spread among the social transect. It is the people that are in the “economically disadvantaged groups, who face an increased general burden of disease, are more likely than other groups to work in hazardous employment with poor working condition” (Naidoo and Wills 2001). We can therefore see that the amount of illness is unequally spread among the social classes, with working class communities being more often affected by illness associated with their place of work.


Jobs in the manual labour sectors present an obvious example of the dangers in the work place. The risks of industrial deafness and other physical injury are increasing. Employers having the mandatory responsibility of providing noise protection for levels over 85 decibels (DoH Website). However, employees also face factors such as back problems from lifting, lung and eye problems from dust and potential fumes from working in an industrial area.

The factory floor or heavy industrial site is not the only employment location where the environment has a detrimental effect on employee health. There are also various risks that accompany office jobs that are currently being addressed, especially as employees are now more inclined to sue employers, and are much more knowledgeable about their legal rights. Illnesses such as Repetitive Strain Injury, eye problems due to length of time looking at a computer screen or poor office lighting, and back problems caused by sitting for long periods of time would just be a few to name. These factors are being addressed by companies who are providing preventative measures such as arm rests for keyboards, anti-glare computer screens and orthopaedic chairs and foot rests designed to promote a better back posture.

Obesity and Exercise, Fitness and Health

The sedentary lifestyle of office workers also promotes the potential risk of obesity. With workers not moving from their seats much, they will not be using as much energy, which will in turn create a surplus of energy eventually turning to fat. Some employers are trying to promote good lifestyles and exercise for their employees by providing changing and showering facilities at work, exercise classes at lunch times, and the services of personal trainers to provide support and education. Their belief is that any money invested in providing these services will be recouped in better quality of work and fewer days lost to illness.

Obesity as well as many other illnesses and diseases can also be affected by the location of where an individual lives. On the global scale, people living in countries with a traditionally Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of heart attacks and colon problems because their diet is so rich in fruit and pasta. This can be contrasted when compared with countries such as the United Kingdom having one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world (DoH website).

A further complication associated with obesity is Type 2 diabetes, often occurring in older overweight people. “Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases with the number of people suffering from it increasing worldwide. Factors such as aging population and rising obesity are contributing to its increase” (Northern Ireland Medical Review 2007). In the UK, Type 2 diabetes affects many overweight people and is the number of sufferers is growing annually, largely due to a diet, which is rich in fat and sugar, and to a general lack of exercise.

Climate and Health, Fitness and Exercise

Climate can also have a huge impact on an individual’s health. A prime example of this would be Australia having such a high rate of skin cancer because of the harmful effects of the sun. Colder climates and areas without a lot of sunlight also carry health risks such as frostbite and pneumonia in addition to vitamin D deficiencies. Different countries have their own set of health problems due to their location.

Social Class and Health, Exercise and Fitness

On a local scale the area in which an individual lives can be largely dependant on their earning capacity with lower class people or low earners generally living in urbanised areas in less spacious conditions, closer to areas such as waste sites or areas with pollution problems. In these areas where there is also the highest rate of crime it can be potentially dangerous to walk through streets at night and it may be dangerous for children to play outside during the day. This can lead to a lack of exercise in children as they are not able to go out and play because it is too dangerous, and this is recognised as one of the causes of rapidly growing obesity in Britain and the United States. We then see the economically advantaged families moving away from these areas to areas like the countryside, here there is space for children to play and exercise in relative safety and in fresh air.

An individual’s financial status can also have implications in diet, with fresh produce being more expensive. Although cheaper ranges of food such as economy ranges are provided by most supermarkets, they can have high levels of artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives, which are often high in salt and sugars.

Another environmental factor affected by income level is education in nutrition and well-being, with economically disadvantaged individuals often being less educated on matters like this. There isn’t a common knowledge of the benefits of a balanced diet, or the understanding that smoking and binge drinking present a large number of health problems ranging from all sorts of cancers to severe liver and heart damage.

This lack of education can extend to health care with working class individuals either not being educated on proper personal health care and on how to spot symptoms of diseases e.g. meningitis or not being able to afford some of the drugs that aren’t available on the National Health Service (NHS), or simply not having the time to do something about a problem they discover because they are working so often.

The world is different for the wealthy, and the financially better off in general. There is the opportunity for those who are financially better off to purchase private health insurance for example with BUPA. Private health insurance offers many different advantages such as better doctors and nursing staff, vastly reduced waiting times for surgery and better living conditions whilst in hospital.

Politics and Health, Exercise and Fitness

The politics of a country can also be considered to be an important social environmental factor affecting health. The Labour Party traditionally provides more support to public bodies such as the health service, state pensions and a range of benefits for the poor. We can see government initiatives such as very high taxes on alcohol and tobacco, with raised taxes on unhealthy food.

The ban of smoking inside pubic spaces and advertising campaigns showing the effects of smoking, binge drinking, drink driving and aids have all been chosen to be implemented by the government. If the ruling party of the country changes then they will have to consider previous governments policies and ways of educating the public on health dangers and possibly change them, or cut funding to advertising schemes.


‘The troubles’ in Northern Ireland, most prominent during the 1970’s, led to a high prevalence of stress indicators such as depression and suicide. This affected school children as well as adults as from that time there was the problem with sectarianism that led to a large increase into depression and suicide.


In conclusion, we can see that the environmental factors affecting an individual’s health take many different forms. The environment in which a person lives, works and socialises includes the physical, social, political, financial and geographical aspects People do not derive their health and well-being from only one aspect of the world in which they live. As people, we are complex beings, with both physical and mental health to consider and look after. It is only when we treat the health of the ‘whole’ person that we can treat all their illnesses. That is why health is such a complex and difficult issue for governments and others to deal with. There are so many factors involved, each needing to be attended to. If people’s health is to be improved, all of the environmental factors affecting their health must be addressed, and not just their immediate medical problems.


Department of Health (1999)
Saving lives: Our Healthier Nation
London: Stationary office

Department of health website – www.doh.gov.uk

Diabetes Across The Borders
Northern Ireland Medical Review – Issue 6 2007
Pub by Medical Communications Ltd

Naidoo and Wills (2001)
Health Studies: An Introduction

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