Government vouchers for health, words by Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish.

How good is the NSW government? Not only are there vouchers to encourage us to go to the cinema or theatre and a meal beforehand to really make a night of it if we like, but now we can access a voucher to travel intrastate as well.

While at first glance these are all great initiatives, designed to stimulate an economic rebound and support the many hard hit sectors of our community, they do have one common negative consequence; they all involve sitting down.

Over the past 20 months of COVID-induced despondency, all state Premiers, Chief Health Officers and medical authorities have encouraged people to exercise and keep active. In fact exercise has been one of the only four endorsed reasons to venture outside during lockdowns.

Recent research commissioned by Fitness Australia has identified:

  • One-third (33%) of Australians in COVID lockdown-affected areas report that the lockdowns have had a negative impact on their mental health, 12% saying that it has been a ‘very negative’ impact.
  • 30% of Australians are identified as having experienced high psychological distress in the past month, with a further 10% experiencing moderate distress
  • Younger Australians have been hit particularly hard, with 45% of those aged 17-24 experiencing high psychological distress 
  • The mental illness implications of the pandemic are very troubling with the survey finding that 37% of Australians are ‘languishing’; considered a pre-cursor to more serious mental health illnesses in some instances.

These findings are on top of the already proven physical ailments that come from inactivity, such as obesity, diabetes, dementia, cardio vascular problems, arthritis to name a few.

Before COVID, Australia was already one of the most unfit OECD nations with ever decreasing participation rates in exercise, physical activity and movement.

Now as we emerge from our COVID cocoon is the ideal time to encourage people to become more physically active. Introducing a voucher system for activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, dance, bushwalking, Pilates, bowls, bowling, cycling, golf, horse riding, gyms, surfing to name but a few, not only supports small businesses operating in these activities and regions but more importantly can inspire people to get off their backsides, get away from their screens, venture outdoors and try new physical activities.

As well as improving our mental and physical health, government investment in activity vouchers for all ages fosters family and social cohesion, positive behavioural changes and an improved quality of life.

If government bean counters still aren’t convinced, investing in preventative health has been proven to deliver a three to four times return on the public investment in later life health costs savings. How much better is that?

Words by Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish