Most adults don't exercise enough, research finds

Generic pic of cyclist The government recommends people take moderate exercise at least 12 times in every four-week period.

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Most adults in England are risking their health by failing to get enough exercise, research suggests.

A University of Bristol-led study found 80% failed to meet the government target of taking moderate exercise at least 12 times in a four-week period.

Better-off and better-educated adults were most likely to exercise, while the poorer and least educated were most likely to be inactive.

The study analysed exercise data for more than a million adults in England.

It found about 8% of adults who were physically able to walk had not walked for even five minutes continuously during a four-week period, while 46% had not walked for leisure for more than 30 minutes continuously.

Researchers said 88% had not been swimming, 90% had not used a gym and around 20% of people over the age of 16 had done only minimal amounts of physical activity.

Warm weather

They say the findings provide evidence of a direct correlation between an individual's education, household income and local area deprivation and their level of physical activity.

Start Quote

Physical inactivity is the most important modifiable health behaviour for chronic disease”

End Quote Prof Carol Propper

Those with higher socioeconomic status were more physically active and people with a degree only had a 12% chance of being inactive. However, those with no qualifications were three times as likely to not exercise.

Those living in areas with more sports facilities and higher local authority spending on new facilities were also less likely to be inactive.

The study also found warm weather made people more likely to exercise, while rain reduced levels of physical activity.

Carol Propper, professor of economics at the university's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, said: "Physical inactivity is the most important modifiable health behaviour for chronic disease, so knowing who is physically inactive is important for designing cost-effective policy interventions."

She said the findings suggested that "financial as well as cultural barriers need to be overcome to reduce the prevalence of physical inactivity".

The NHS recommends people exercise at moderate intensity for at least two and a half hours every week. This can include cycling, fast walking, hiking and basketball. Experts also recommend muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week to work major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

Olympic legacy

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum and honorary chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, said: "No-one should be at all surprised by these woeful statistics."

He blamed successive governments for failing to ensure that the London 2012 Olympics inspired people to participate in grassroots sport.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded research analysed data from Sport England's annual Active People Surveys, which included details on an individual's gender, education, income and local area deprivation, physical activity levels and local geographical factors such as weather and access to sports facilities and green spaces.

The World Health Organisation estimates physical inactivity causes 1.9 million deaths a year worldwide, including 10% to 16% of breast cancer, colon cases and diabetes cases and about 22% of coronary heart disease cases.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    It's difficult to make the time when there are so many other things you have to do. I wasn't getting anything like enough exercise until a couple of months ago when I found myself the owner of a 3 year old border collie. Immediately it became top priority and we clock up a couple of hours a day. Just popping out for a walk now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    I do love being physically fit and it did make me more productive at work. I used to sail and take part in regattas about twice a month. For that I built up a basic fitness in gyms. But as the economy is now we sold all the sailing gear, we can't afford luxury like gyms and have no time left for sports as we work harder than ever. I fail to see the Olympics potential impact on any of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Driven peope tend to be more active about achieving things in all aspects of their life. Therefore they are more likely to push themselves on in their jobs and careers. Similarly they are more likely to actively work on getting their desired level of health / fitness / strength / body etc. So no real surprise there is a correlation. It's all down to priorities and making things happen for yourself

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Jogging, walking, biking, body weight exercises, home gyms.
    I've always found it weird that people pay £30 a month for private gyms - plus the 'kit', plus the petrol, plus the time to drive there and back.
    If it takes you 30 mins (say) round trip to drive to gym - you could have done 30 mins home exercise / jog or what ever at no cost and saved the hour you spent at the gym.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    You either take the view that being poor or living in a poor area makes it harder to keep fit and exercise because you can't afford decent food and a gym membership. OR.... you take the view that it's the person who is lazy and therefore avoids exercise and doesn't care about their health and food intake. Personally, I think its the latter. Everybody can keep fit.


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