Active adults maintained their exercise habits during 2020, but 710,000 more people became inactive

By Tom Walker April 30, 2021

The pandemic has caused people to change their exercise habits / Shutterstock / fizkes

Sport England reported a drop of 710,000 in the number of people classified as active in England in 2020.

In total, more than a quarter of England’s adult population (27.1%) is now classified as physically inactive, i.e. those who exercise less than 30 minutes per week.

Despite this, the good news is that most adults classified as physically active have maintained their exercise habits while in confinement.

The figures come from the latest edition of Sport England Adult Labor Force Survey, which also shows a worrying increase in the number of inactive people.

Data from the report reveals that activity levels were hit hardest during the initial phase of the pandemic – the national lockdown between mid-March and mid-May 2020 – when the proportion of the population classified as physically active fell 7.1% (or more than 3m adults).

In the second phase, with the easing of restrictions, activity levels were still down from 2019, but the reductions were smaller. There were 4.4 percent (2.0 million) fewer active adults from mid-May to mid-July 2020, and 3.1 percent (1.4 million) fewer active adults from mid-July to mid-September.

In the third phase of the pandemic, as new restrictions were imposed – but before the full impact of the new national lockdown in November was felt – activity levels fell 1.8% and there was 810,000 fewer working adults than in 2019.

There were, however, trends in how different groups and demographic groups responded to the relaxation of restrictions, with women being less likely to return to work than men.

Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of Sport England, said: “We know the pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s ability to participate in sport and physical activity, but the reality is it could have been worse.

“It is encouraging to see from the survey that so many have still found ways to be active despite the majority of opportunities being unavailable or severely limited.

“The response from the sector has been remarkable and I pay tribute to everyone who has worked so hard to maintain sport and physical activity despite the most difficult situation of our lives.

“However, today’s report also reminded us that not everyone has been affected equally and that we owe it to groups disproportionately affected – women, youth, people with disabilities, people with disabilities. ‘a long-term health problem and black and Asian people in particular – to do everything possible to help them resume their activities in the weeks and months to come.

“In particular, declining activity levels among 16-24 year olds is a major concern – helping and motivating young people to re-engage in sport and physical activity must now be a top priority, not just for Sport England , but also for all of us. “

In response to the report’s release, Huw Edwards, CEO of Ukactive, said HCM: “The decline in physical activity levels during a period of restricted exercise opportunities comes as no surprise, at a time when gyms, swimming pools and recreation centers were closed for five out of 12 months.

“Fitness and leisure facilities are essential for the health of our country, forming a vital part of our business ecosystem, as evidenced by the impact of their closure, especially on vulnerable groups such as people elderly, ethnic minorities, people with long-term illnesses, and those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

“The reopening of these facilities on April 12 was a milestone, signaled by the safe return of millions of people to their local clubs and centers. The return of exercise classes on May 17 is the next big step in our nation’s physical and mental recovery, especially given their popularity with women, who make up 76% of participants.

“However, it is essential that the government recognize the difference between being open and staying open, with fitness and recreation facilities continuing to operate in limited capacity due to the security measures in place.

“The ability of our sector to survive and then develop to fully play its role depends on its financial viability, but the level of tailor-made support is insufficient to date.

“The spring budget failed to provide support for VAT relief for our sector or to expand the National Recreation Recovery Fund, which was a government oversight. The longer this admission remains unanswered, the more likely it is that the market failure will lead to more closures across the industry.

“These closures mean that communities will no longer be able to access their facilities, but this time it will be for lack of providing sufficient financial support.

“Further closures will have the greatest impact on vulnerable people in our society, threatening their physical, mental and social well-being.

“The government must act with energy and urgency to tackle this problem and support the sector which once again demonstrates that it is the engine room of physical activity in the country.

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