Using sport to improve health

As part of the All Together Active physical activity strategy for Cheshire and Merseyside, MSP have worked with local sports clubs to demonstrate the link between participation in sport and an improvement in physical and mental health.

One such initiative is Bowl for Health, which is a free 6-8 week programme of beginner lessons hosted by bowling clubs across Merseyside.

The idea for Bowl for Health was developed and successfully piloted in 2017 by Formby Village Sports Club (formerly known as Holy Trinity Bowling Club) with support from MSP, and has been rolled out by more clubs across Merseyside thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and Liverpool City Council with support from our stakeholders.

A connection between bowling clubs and the local health system has been created by promoting through Primary Care Networks, social prescribing Link Workers, NHS Trusts and third sector organisations, who all recognise the impact that physical activity and sport can have on improving physical and mental health.

Patient outcomes

Each patient completes a pre-intervention and post-intervention evaluation form to monitor and demonstrate improvements in physical and mental health, with data from Bowl for Health participants showing:

  • 68% participants improved their physical activity levels
  • 40% participants improved their mental wellbeing levels
  • 39% participants improved their self-efficacy
  • 50% participants at the greatest risk of loneliness reported feeling closer to other people


Click here to view a full evaluation report from the 2018 Bowl for Health programme.

“I’ve only been a member of the club for a short time, but I’ve found the activity of bowling very invigorating – both from a physical and mental side, making lots of new friends and connections – so with this you get the best of both worlds!”” James

Project learning

  • Bowls is a great sport to offer as a gentle way for people to improve their confidence taking part in physical activity; it’s accessible (with aids available to help releasing and collecting balls), social and club environments are conducive to making new friends and building confidence
  • The initiative attracted people who weren’t already active or playing bowls – 60% participants didn’t meet the minimum physical activity guidelines prior to playing, and 51% were complete newcomers to bowls
  • The connection between health and sport through a referral programme such as Bowl for Health could be applied to other sports clubs
  • In addition to strong patient outcomes there are wider benefits gained too; bowls clubs in particular benefitted as typically 84% of a course cohort would go on to join their local bowling club, therefore boosting membership numbers and sustainability for a sport that has largely been declining over the past couple of decades.

Further information

For further information about this project please contact Danny Woodworth (Partnership Manager for Health) via

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