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What did we learn from the latest Active Lives?

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Posted 23rd October 2020

The latest Active Lives results were released this week, looking at the activity levels of adults across England.

There was also a separate report that looked at the impact of coronavirus on how active people were, comparing March-May 2020, with the same period in 2019. Our Data and Insight Manager, Emma Gooch, looked at what we’ve learnt from both reports.

As you were in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire

In both South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, there has been no significant change in people’s activity levels compared to this time last year, meaning that six in ten people in each county are classed as active. In Leeds and Rotherham, the data suggests a marked increase in the number of active people, and a decrease in the number of inactive people. However, district sample sizes are so small, that it is difficult to read too much into these changes year-on-year.

Lockdown measures halt increases in activity levels

Nationally, activity levels in England were increasing until measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic were introduced in mid-March. Lockdown led to decreases in activity levels between mid-March and mid-May. The number of active adults during this period decreased by three million, and there were 3.7 million more adults classed as inactive. This has countered an otherwise upward trend in the number of active adults, meaning nationally, the activity levels of adults remains largely unchanged compared to last year.

Inequalities are getting wider

The report has, as expected, confirmed that inequalities are getting wider, and shows why Sport England’s tackling inequalities fund has been much needed. Lockdown has disproportionately impacted those in lower social groups. Compared to twelve months ago, the proportion of people from lower socio-economic groups who are inactive has increased slightly. It has had a similar impact to the inequalities we see when it comes to ethnic groups.

The number of disabled people and people with long-term conditions being active has risen by almost 4% in recent years, but lockdown saw a rise of 11.2% of people in this group who were inactive, and doing less than 30 minutes of activity a week.

How people were active during lockdown

A glance out of the window between March and May could have told you that more people were out walking, and the report confirms that. An extra 300,000 people walked as a leisure activity, and there were also more people hitting the tarmac to go for a run – more than 730,000 people. This was offset by more than 1.2m fewer people running indoors on treadmills, as the impact of gyms closing took hold.  The number of active men during this period decreased by almost 9%, compared to just over 5% for women, who were largely responsible for the 2.1m increase in home exercise.

Activity and mental health

Daily exercise was one of the few things people were allowed and actively encouraged to do in the initial stages of lockdown, for both physical and mental health. The coronavirus report covering March-May of this year, shows that anxiety levels increased, most notably in women. Active people report being happier and less anxious than those who are fairly active or inactive, which shows why the 7.4% increase in the number of inactive people will add to the mental toll of lockdown. Supporting people’s mental wellbeing is one of the most important reasons why we must all continue to work together to provide ways for people to be active.

For more information about Active Lives, and to read the latest and archived reports, visit the Sport England website.

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