New research suggests many adults in England are putting their health at risk by failing to do enough exercise. The University of Bristol-led study analysed exercise data for more than a million adults across England. Researchers found 80% of adults are failing to meet the government target of moderate exercise at least 12 times over a four-week period. The data also found 8% of adults who were physically able to walk had not walked for even five minutes during a four-week period, while 46% had not walked for leisure for more than 30 minutes continuously.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the University of Bristol research analysed data from Sport England’s annual Active People Surveys. The study found 88% of adults had not been swimming, 90% had not used a gym and almost 20% of people over the age of 16 had carried out only minimal amounts of physical activity. Interestingly, the study found adults that were better off and better educated were more likely to exercise, while those that were poorer and least educated were most likely to be inactive.
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
Researchers at the University of Bristol say the findings provide evidence of a direct correlation between an individual’s education, household income, local area deprivation and their level of physical activity. Those with a high socioeconomic status were more physically active and people with a degree only had a 12% chance of being inactive. Those with no qualifications were found to be three times as likely not to exercise.
Areas that provide 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. “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” says Carol Propper, professor of economics at the university’s centre for market and public organisation. “The findings suggest that financial as well as cultural barriers need to be overcome to reduce the prevalence of physical inactivity.”
To stay healthy, the NHS recommends adults do two types of physical activity every week: aerobic and muscle-strengthening. Adults should do either moderate intensity aerobic activity for at least two and a half hours every week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity every week. Moderate intensity aerobic activities can include: fast walking, cycling, water aerobics, riding a bike, hiking and even pushing a lawn mower. Vigorous aerobic activities can include: running, swimming, tennis, football, aerobics and skipping. Experts also recommend muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week to work major muscle groups such as the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
Remaining inactive can lead to life-threatening health consequences. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates physical inactivity causes 1.9 million deaths a year worldwide, including one in ten breast cancers, colon cancers and cases of diabetes, plus over one in five cases of heart disease.