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One million more people active in England

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Posted 17th October 2019

The highest ever levels of activity have been recorded by Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adult Survey, with one million more people physically active than when the survey began.

Based on data gathered from 180,000 respondents (aged 16+) in the 12 months from May 2018 to May 2019, 1,015,700 more people are active compared to when the survey started, in 2015.

That takes the total number of active people – those doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week – up to 28.6 million.

The number of inactive people – doing fewer than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week – is down to 11.2 million, a decrease of 131,700 since 2015 and the lowest figure ever recorded by the survey.

In West Yorkshire, there continues to be a decrease in the number of inactive people.  Similarly, in three of the four districts in South Yorkshire, there are fewer inactive people than the first Active Lives figures.

Our Data and Insight Manager, Emma Gooch, will be writing a blog that looks at the latest figures in more detail, to be shared on our website next week.

You can view the full report here.

The results show that this improvement has been driven by women and older adults (aged 55+) – groups we have focused on in our Towards an Active Nation strategy, with campaigns such at This Girl CanOpen in a new window, a £10 million fund for projects that support people aged 55+ to get active and by supporting new opportunities for running such as our £3 million investment into parkrun.

For women, weights, interval and gym sessions have seen a significant increase in popularity, while there are 142,000 fewer inactive women than 12 months and an additional 254,200 more active women – taking the figures to 5,948,100 and 14,103,900, respectively.

While for older people, running, weight sessions and gym sessions have grown in popularity, with 100,700 fewer inactive adults aged 55+ and an additional 506,700 more active in the last 12 months – leading to totals of 5,592,400 and 9,137,800, respectively.

The report also makes clear the mental health benefits of being active. When asked to rate their mental health on a scale of 0-10, active people reported feeling:

  • More satisfied with their lives
  • Happier
  • More likely to feel the things they do in life are worthwhile
  • Less anxious

And Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England chief executive, was encouraged by the new data.

“It’s really excellent news that a record number of people are now active every week and that we’re also seeing a significant decrease in the amount of inactive people,” he said.

“It shows us that efforts to help more people get active are starting to make a real difference, particularly for older adults, women and those with a disability or long-term health condition.

“But we can’t be complacent. Within the overall positive picture of these figures is a sobering reality – if you are well-off you are far more likely to be active than if you’re on a low income or less affluent.

“While there are complex barriers that stop less well-off people from getting active, this is an unacceptable inequality and one we’re starting to address in the work we are doing across the country – including piloting programmes in 12 local areas to tackle inequality.

“Being active has positive benefits for mental and physical wellbeing, strengthens communities and helps build confidence and resilience.

“We urge anyone working towards helping people live healthier lives – whether that’s government policy makers or health professionals – to consider physical activity as a vehicle to help drive positive outcomes, so that everyone can benefit.”

For those with a disability or long-term health conditions there has been an increase in activity levels and decrease in inactivity levels over the 12 months to May 2019, with 216,300 more active and 107,800 fewer inactive.

However, they are still twice as likely to be inactive than people without a condition or disability, so work continues to support and inspire people into physical activity – such as the new We Are UndefeatableOpen in a new window campaign, led by 15 of the leading health and social care charities and backed with National Lottery funding and our expertise.

Other notable findings from the report show:

  • People who are less affluent are the most likely to be inactive (33%) and the least likely to be active (54%) compared to those who are the most well-off – who are 16% inactive and 72% active.
  • A complex backdrop of economic and health inequalities magnifies the impact of barriers to getting active felt by all, such as confidence or knowing where to go, through to cost, lack of time and appropriate opportunity.
  • Walking for leisure or travel remains the most popular activity, with 477,800 more people walking for travel (15,247,600 in total) and 514,000 more walking for leisure (19,162,200).
  • Fitness activities are becoming even more popular, especially for women and those in older groups, with 398,000 more people taking part (13,766,300 in total). Weight sessions are increasingly popular, with this type of fitness being easily adapted for different groups, e.g. strength and balance for older people.
  • Yoga and Pilates continue to grow in popularity.
  • Racket sports continue to decrease in popularity with 111,400 fewer people taking part.
  • Netball enjoyed a growth in popularity with 50,200 more people taking part (319,400 in total), with a diverse audience of younger and older women attracted through grassroots programmes like Back to Netball.

Nigel Adams, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, added: “Every single person in this country should have the opportunity to take part in sport and activity. It is not only good for our physical health but it also boosts our mental wellbeing and makes people happier.

“Sport England is rightly focusing on further increasing participation so that people from all backgrounds can get, and enjoy being active.”

The Active Lives Adult Survey is conducted by Ipsos Mori.

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