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26 Apr 2024

Sport England’s Active Lives insight finds record activity levels, but enduring health inequalities
BY Kath Hudson

Active Lives data has shown an uptick in activity levels in the over-75s

Active Lives data has shown an uptick in activity levels in the over-75s
photo: Sport England

While British adults are the most active they’ve been in a decade, health inequalities remain with the same groups missing out, according to Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adults Report.

Between November 2022 and November 2024, 63.4 per cent of the adult population met the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week. This is only a slight increase from 63.1 per cent in 2022, but is two million more than in 2015.

There was little change in the number of inactive people – averaging fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a week – 25.7 per cent of the population (11.9m) compared to 25.8 per cent 12 months ago.

The remaining 10.9 per cent – 5.1 million people – are active between 30 and 149 minutes a week.

Two strength training sessions per week are recommended, but muscle strengthening activity is unchanged overall, with 44 per cent meeting the guidelines.

The good news

Activity levels among older adults are growing: the over-55s show the highest levels of activity since records began.

It is heartening, and perhaps surprising, to see this trend is being driven by the overs-75s. Now 42.8 per cent of this cohort are physically active, compared to 33.4 per cent between November 2015 and November 2016, when the first Active Lives report was published. Although this group is still the least active of all age groups.

Active travel and fitness activities continue to recover from the pandemic - with one million more adults (2.1 per cent more) walking or cycling for travel. However, cycling numbers are continuing to fall, with the gains made during the pandemic now lost. There are 246,000 (1.1 per cent) fewer cyclists than seven years ago.

There has been an increase of 1.5 per cent in people taking part in fitness activities compared to the previous year, this equates to 802,000 adults, with more participation from men and women.

Team sports are at the highest level seen for six years.

Swimming is back to pre-pandemic levels, with 4.2m people taking part at least twice in the last 28 days.

Chief strategy officer, Nick Pontefract, says there are many positives to take from the figures: “Activity levels for adults in England are as high as they have been since the survey started nearly a decade ago. Despite a global pandemic and cost of living increases, the nation as a whole is an active one, with nearly two-thirds of adults achieving the recommended levels of activity.”

The less good news

One quarter of the adult population are still inactive and there is a postcode lottery. The more deprived places show the least activity, ranging from a high of 78 per cent in Brighton and Hove, to just 49 per cent of adults being active in Barking and Dagenham.

There is also a regional divide with 60 per cent active in the West Midlands, compared to 68 per cent in the South West.

Age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic group, disabilities and long-term health conditions all impact activity levels and the report shows longstanding inequalities endure. Women, people from lower socio-economic groups and Black and Asian people are less likely to be active than others.

Activity generally decreases with age, with the sharpest decline being after 75. Gay men, lesbian women and bisexual adults are more likely to be active than heteorsexual adults.

Forty-eight per cent of people with a disability or long-term health condition are active, compared with 69 per cent of those without.

The most affluent have seen long-term growth, increasing by 1.6 per cent from the first report, while the least affluent have seen the proportion of active people drop by 2.2 per cent in the same time period.

Sport England chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth, says: “While there are many positives, the report also reminds us how much there is still to do. At the moment, a person’s likeliness to be active depends too much on their bank balance and postcode. That’s why we will unapologetically continue to target our investment into places where it can make the biggest difference, and on the groups who have most to gain.”

The action
Next week Sport England will announce the details of its £160m Movement Fund, which will make it easier to access funding where it is needed and targeted to make the biggest difference. A funding pot of £250m is available for communities with the highest levels of deprivation.

Pilots have shown this approach outperforms expectations, with activity levels growing more rapidly than comparable areas with a similar demographic. It is now being expanded to 80-100 new areas deemed to make the biggest impact.

ENDNOTE

Released in December, the Active Lives Children and Young People Report 22-23 also showed little improvement from the previous year, but increases from five years ago.



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