There are positive signs that our inactive population is rediscovering its verve and zest for life.
A new craze is sweeping the nation, which is impacting on people’s exercise habits in a hugely beneficial way.
Giant indoor trampoline parks are springing up all over the country – the most exciting innovation in the leisure market for many years.
Children – and adults too – are, quite literally, bouncing off the walls, giving their flagging mojos a much-needed jump-start.
Under a multitude of different brand names – Jump Warehouse, Jump Active, Jump Arena, Jump Factory, Jump Extreme, Jump Park, Jump 360, to name just a few – these vast arenas fuse fun with fitness and are proving a valuable asset in the war against sedentary behaviour and obesity.
This illuminating fact struck me as I sat watching from the balcony as my son and his friend cavorted around the 200 interconnected trampolines, airbags and slam dunk nets housed in the 50,000 square feet Jump Inc arena in Leeds.
Their red faces, sticky with sweat, were a tell-tale sign of how much they enjoyed the experience, and a giveaway too of their sustained intensity levels.
Ticks every box
Dan Glover is the Regional Community Manager of Jump Inc which, since 2015, has opened centres in Sheffield, Leeds and Rotherham.
He told me that, during the last school half-term, more than 30,000 bouncers had been through their doors.
‘We see it not just as a corporate brand, but as a community brand,’ he says. ‘I want jumping to be the number one form of physical activity in this country. We want it to be an active, cool place, where people have tonnes of fun and get fit and healthy in the process.’
The all-round benefits associated with these indoor urban playgrounds will not have gone unnoticed by Sport England, as they fulfil all the criteria that are at the heart of the organisation’s new strategy to tackle inactivity.
The adrenaline-fuelled exercises and party atmosphere at the Jump Inc centres promote more than physical and mental health and wellbeing. They also encourage social and community cohesion.
There are classes for every demographic: those designed to facilitate quality family time, sessions specially structured for toddlers, teenagers and adults, classes for children with disabilities, and activities targeted towards getting more people from under-represented groups engaged in physical activity.
Jump Inc is heavily involved in Sheffield’s physical activity plan, Move More, the goal of which is to transform the Steel City into the most active in the country by 2020.
‘We have opened Jump Fit classes to people who have never been on a trampoline in their lives as an alternative fitness session,’ says Dan.
‘I am really keen to push the active side of it. I have joined the health and wellbeing forum for the region I work with and became involved with Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Science and Sports Engineering Research centres and also the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme sjnce opening our first centre in 2015.’
Dan also works closely with the Community Sports Trusts of Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham football clubs, which have joined forces with the NCS programme, whose aim is to incentivise teenagers and get them interacting on a social level through team-building events.
‘Sheffield United under-14s have been and, next week, we have around 140 coming down from Sheffield Wednesday,’ adds Dan.
‘Several hundred teenagers from Rotherham FC had exclusive hire of the arena in the town recently too, with the NCS team hosting it as part of their annual fresher’s event.’
Fundamental movement skills
Dan is currently working with Sheffield Hallam and Move More to produce a scientific case study on what the human body goes through whilst trampolining, so he can compile some accredited data on heart rate, calorie expenditure and levels of oxygen consumption.
‘I heard a statistic that children are only active for around 25% of every PE lesson,’ he says.
‘I thought to myself, blimey, we are probably achieving 80%, if not 90% high intensity activity for every hour.’
The Department of Health, in its Childhood Obesity Plan, wants every primary school child to get at least 60 minutes’ moderate to vigorous physical activity a day – 30 minutes at school through active break times, PE, extra-curricular clubs and active lessons, and 30 minutes at home.
At present, less than a quarter of under-11s are active for an hour a day.
Another significant factor worth highlighting is the tremendous potential of jump centres to develop children’s fundamental movement skills.
Whether you are diving, twisting or flipping off a jump tower platform, bouncing on a trampoline, scaling a 4-foot bouldering wall, playing dodgeball or testing your skills and nerve on a tumble track, there are numerous opportunities to improve your core movement skills – with the reassurance of a soft landing as you learn through your failures.
‘I received a good compliment from the Sheffield United Under-14s physio, who was watching his students and commented that it was helping their coordination, balance and strength as well as their cardiovascular fitness,’ says Dan.
He told Dan that combining a demanding physical workout with the opportunity to let their hair down was also great for their psychological health. The ongoing drive to impress can be mentally taxing for young footballers hell-bent on earning a professional contract, with jumping releasing stress-busting endorphins that trigger a feeling of euphoria.
Sessions can be made bespoke to whatever schools, colleges or customers want to achieve.
Corporate functions are proving particularly popular at the moment.
‘A lot of these young, dynamic companies like to come down and have their quarterly meetings here, a bit of breakfast and then a bit of a bounce later. And if they want it as team building, then we can structure the classes.
‘We are also working with Sheffield Hallam to get older and foreign students down to help them socially interact and get to know each other, while also having fun and getting active.’
It is clear that Dan and his team are focused as much on the wellbeing of their participants as the health of the business.
The ‘Lockdown’ events that are laid on for teenagers, for example, while proving hugely popular in terms of their impact on ‘footfall’, have an important social impact too.
‘It is a proper full-on nightclub feel, with laser show, haze machines – we’ve even had Capital FM doing the music – and it means the kids aren’t hanging around bored on street corners.
‘We’ve had hundreds coming through the door, probably not even realising they are getting fit while they are enjoying themselves.’
Disability and autism friendly sessions
The dual-impact, twofold benefit theme is evident in the Jump Toddler mornings too, which are for parents and carers of children five or under.
‘It’s a nice way for parents to interact with their child in an active way, rather than just sit down and have a cup of coffee somewhere. And then it’s not just one person getting active, it can be a whole family in one fell swoop.’
And in the Jump Stars classes – a dedicated session where disabled children and their families can exclusively enjoy the park.
‘This is something I’m incredibly passionate about – working with families who have children with disabilities.
‘Jumping is a like Marmite for a child who is on the autism spectrum, for example. You’ve got the loud noise, the music, the flashing lights – which one autistic child might love, but another would have an adverse reaction to.’
Dan works closely with Autism EPIC and Leeds Autism Services, who use the facilities to develop the social communication skills and physical competence of the children they look after. And also with the Rotherham and Sheffield Parent Carer Forums (comprising parents and carers of children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs).
‘What we do is open the park to them at peak times, and close it down to the public, as my argument is, you can’t do it during the daytime because children are at school. You are discriminating against so many people that way.
‘We have got some great feedback. The music is turned down to a quieter level and it is all in a safe, controlled environment; so if a child does react badly, there are mums and dads there all supporting.
‘But the thing that touched me is that it is the parents – who don’t get much respite in their private lives – who also get a big benefit from it. They can kind of sit back a little bit, have a cup of tea, and know we have a marshal keeping an eye on everything.
‘We also have specialist schools come down during the daytime, when it is quieter, more controlled and a calming environment.’
Dan is looking to get more actively involved with rebound therapy sessions – which is the use of trampolines to provide therapeutic exercise and recreation for those with disabilities.
‘Children with severe disabilities can just lie on one of our large Olympic-size Max-Air trampolines with their carer, parent or sibling, just to give them that wonderful sense of movement that being on a trampoline gives you.’
Olympian’s safety message
Safety is, of course, paramount and while the acrobatic nature of the activities mean concerns are understandable, Dan’s plan to allay fears was to enlist the help of the face of trampolining in Great Britain, Bryony Page.
The reigning Olympic silver medallist spearheaded Jump Inc’s latest safety drive by appearing in a video at her home centre in Sheffield.
‘When you walk in you have a safety video to watch, you have marshals with whistles… people to monitor what’s going on, and this is definitely to their credit.’
She adds: ‘It’s so nice to see so many people getting involved. It’s a great environment, very vibrant… a really good stepping stone to see what trampolining is like under a little bit of supervision and hopefully people are inspired by this.’
The beauty is that trampolining can be as easy or as challenging as you want it to be; a training ground for athletes (a stunt man is a regular at Sheffield!), a place to unwind and bounce around for fun or a hardcore form of exercise that serves as a high-flying cardio workout. You decide.
Any activity that puts a much-needed spring in the step of the nation gets my backing.