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.

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The key is to find something you enjoy, whether it's cycling, running, doing 'zumba' or digging the garden. If you enjoy it then it's not really a chore. I also think there's an element of some people not wanting to do something if they're told it's good for them - whether that's cutting down on drink, cigarettes, or whatever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    At work in many places even taking an hour for lunch is now frowned upon, many commute, people are exhausted when they get home. No point walking into town, you have to drive miles to find a useful shop now. Gym membership costs a fortune. Jogging is not a good idea for everyone, it permanently damaged my knees. I'm fit. I swim and own weights, but I can see why it's a big problem for some people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    53. Biscuit Boy "I'm subsidising gastric band ops"

    And I'm subsidising social services, roads (I don't drive) sports facilities (I don't play) etc. It's called 'society'. I agree on ending bariatric surgery though. My wife was fat but healthy before she was bullied by society and Drs into getting WLS. Like many she died at 26 from complications. (Her Mom is also fat and perfectly healthy).

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    66. FatPeace
    No theres loads of studies available internationally (because thats how science works)
    They all show the same thing regular exercise improves health outcomes long term and will cut morbidity by half over a 20 year period.
    Arthritis is caused by bone erosion and not wear and tear. Heart failure is more likely if you don't exercise.
    Broken bones? Are you confusing sport with exercise?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    60. Atheissimo - I agree with the social issues part 100%.

    I disagree with the body type part though. With hard work any body type can be 'changed', as much as it will allow. Just that some people have to eat more/less, do more/less weights, do more/less cardio.

    I used to work with some African guys that would literally pack on meat in a matter of weeks. I despise my caucasian genetics :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    My wife and I decided to sort ourselves out a couple of years ago by making time to exercise for about 30-45 minutes a day - OK we mainly use a personal trainer package in the Wii, but it's made a difference, and we can use it all year round for free.
    We're both about 3 stone lighter as a result of more exercise and a better diet. Plus we have more energy. All it takes is determination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I try and cycle to work, but between belligerent dog walkers and aggressive law breaking drivers it's almost more trouble than it's worth.
    We need to reduce dependency on driving, I've never even learned how to do it and I get by just fine.

    @72 I don't think you can read! lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    It costs £4.30 to swim in our overcrowded pool. £7.30 to play tennis - both apparently include VAT. VAT on taking exercise - really? I mean really? Perhaps the government should look into that - it may save them money in the long term - not that any British government looks in the long term

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It's not as though exercise is hard; cycle to and from work, then go to gym three times a week. How can it be possible most people aren't doing anything? Do they live in their beds?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I go through stages. Like during the week I eat a ridiculous diet. Yesterday I ate a bag of nuts and a bowl of salad, which is about 300 calories. On the weekend I will literally eat 8k+ calories a day. None stop eating all day. Ate a whole box of Alpen by 1pm last Saturday. I lack sugar and then I binge as soon as it touches my lips. I do a press ups and crunches but nothing extensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The doctor suggested more exercise so I've just bought a wind-up watch.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    55. HantsCricketFan

    Cricket? £100 pounds?? You serious?! So you want to stand about waiting for the rain to go off only to break for lunch when it does and then do a few test swings and then off to the pub for a few? Why dont you really go for the burn and take up fishing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    When the Chancelor eats hamburger (most expensive ones ofcourse) with chips for lunch - what hope is there for the rest of us but to eat cheaper junk food
    And here's an excellent example of part of the problem - people making ANY excuse they can find to not blame themselves for being overweight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

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

    Now that they have proved that throwing money at social problems does not solve them, can they stop, please?

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    "40. AnnaG I cycle into work when it's not raining hard. That's 125 miles a week. I feel great at work and ready to sit down all day"

    The problem is the research shows no amount of other exercise negates the negative health effects of sitting down all day.

    The best thing you can do is get a walking desk, the second best run up a flight or two of stairs every 15 mins or so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    59. RG
    When the Chancelor eats hamburger (most expensive ones ofcourse) with chips for lunch - what hope is there for the rest of us but to eat cheaper junk food

    I don't understand what you're trying to say. What does the Chancellor's diet have to do with anyone who is not the Chancellor?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @45 It's not genetic. Calories in Vs Calories out, you cannot change physics and create energy from nothing or we'd have solved the energy crisis.

    Go to and log everything you eat for 2 weeks, it's pretty much down to portion control, moderate exercise and sensible nutrition choices. When start logging food you become much more aware of what you're eating, you'd be surprised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Last night my plans were simple. I would go up the gym for 11am this morning. It is now nearly 11.30am and here I am, sitting down, distracted by the internet and HYS.
    It's procrastinating that's making me tubby.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    43. D Dortman "a side effect of exercise, all the niggles and injuries that just never go away".
    Yep: arthritis / joint damage, broken bones, physio, heart failure from over-exertion, injuries from cycling accidents - I'd be very very interested to compare the NHS spend on sports injuries to that for 'obesity'. But because it's off-message from the 'health crisis' no-one will fund or study it.


Page 19 of 23


More Health stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.