Assessing the side effects of the ‘exercise pill’: the paradox of physical activity health promotion

Emma Pullen, Dominic Malcolm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


The Exercise is Medicine movement, centralised in Physical Activity Health Promotion (PAHP) policy, is illustrative of neoliberal health governance that acts to sustain the population’s regular participation in physical activity (PA) through the logics of self-care, productivity, personal responsibility and choice. One way this is propagated is through the promotion of exercise as the ‘best buy’ (AMRC 2015) in modern medicine and a wonder ‘pill’ to good health (Sallis 2009a). However, the increasing reliance of PAHP policy on the Exercise is Medicine narrative to construct the healthy citizen typically conflates the categories of sport, exercise and PA, and fails to recognise the different social relations and risks each entails. Consequently, the neoliberal logics central to this narrative are more likely to create actors inclined towards competitive sport and, therefore, PAHP places populations at risk of physical injury that entail both social and economic costs. Mobilising data from semi-structured interviews, the social and economic ‘costs’ of physical injury are documented to develop a critical evaluation of the paradoxical implications of these ‘costs’ for contemporary public health promotion such as the Exercise is Medicine movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalQualitative Research in Sport and Exercise
Early online date16 Oct 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Oct 2017


  • injury
  • Neoliberalism
  • physical activity health promotion policy
  • sport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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