State of Life has written a new report on the wellbeing benefits of volunteering, physical activity and attending worship, using three methods of wellbeing analysis. In this guest blog, Will Watt talks about their methodology and what they found.
Wellbeing analysis often risks stating the blindingly obvious, which in turn can lead to the simple solution being ignored in favour of fashionable or exciting sounding innovations. This is a mistake – the fundamental answers to our health and wellbeing questions have been around for centuries.
State of Life’s new research ‘Faith, Hoops and Charity’ looks at three such activities – volunteering, physical activity or sport, and attending worship. We conclude that going to church is a hugely overlooked source of wellbeing for many across the UK, and that there is a large additive impact of doing all three activities. Crucially, the data shows how to prioritise time and money by prescribing an optimum ‘dose’.
Weekly is the rhythm of life
It’s no great surprise that weekly is the optimum ‘dosage’.. The seven day week is deeply embedded in the human experience; it’s been with us for 4,000 years, a creation of the Babylonian empire. It’s a cycle we all know and understand. We also find that only full time work and marriage yield comparably high positive health and wellbeing impacts as weekly Faith, Hoops and Charity.
Here then are massive benefits that are accessible to all, and on offer for free or at relatively low cost. And looked at from a more strategic, policy perspective, the existing ‘place-based’ infrastructure and social networks around these activities (churches, clubs, groups) are fundamental to happier, healthier individuals and communities.
We used three methods of measuring wellbeing with our favoured being the new WELBY method, benchmarked to the NHS measure of a Quality of Life Year or QALY, which is in the right hand column in the table below, an excerpt from the full paper.
As with our other work, we hope to inform and influence policy through evidence-based analysis. Here’s our four top priorities based on the Faith, Hoops and Charity findings:
- A new interpretation of the relationship between Church, community and the state
In our 2020 study into the economic value of churches, ‘House of Good’, we describe churches as a ready-made distribution network for social good and care in the community – providing food banks, mental health and youth services. Investing in churches as providers of social care must be considered. This can also be true of other faith-based organisations.
- Sport as a preventative health service
Too much funding in sport has gone to those who are already active and would do it anyway. State money must only be spent on sport reaching those who are inactive and/or from lower socio economic areas where the benefits are greatest. Our soon to be published paper ‘Levelling up the Playing Field’ points to how this can be done fairly quickly and effectively.
To paraphrase Sir Simon Stevens of the NHS, if BigPharma invented a pill with these health benefits every doctor in the country would prescribe it. So let’s do that.
- Open, easily accessible information
Alongside social prescribing we must make it easier to get involved, and to get information on where and how people can be prescribed these ‘wonder drugs’. Strategic funding of digital technology is essential to taking part.
What works to improve wellbeing across different interventions?
Read our rapid evidence assessment of the ONS4 wellbeing measures