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 365.

    It's not just about exercise, but nutrition too! If you are going to pour rubbish in to your body, you are going to gain weight!! It's not rocket science.
    Recently attended a wedding and the guests staying in the hotel the next morning were queuing up three times to gorge themselves on monster plates of fry-ups. Healthy section remained untouched. Needless to say these people were BIG. Disgusting

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Being poor and ill-educated are no excuses for the failure to take regular exercise, which costs nothing and requires no mental agility.

    I'm rather tired of hearing about the so-called vulnerable and disadvantaged. Yes, there are a few who, for whatever reason, cannot limber up, but the rest are just plain lazy couch potatoes whose only exercise is the weekly trip to the benefits office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    358. Louis Wynne
    I sympathise with your predicament if you are coping with 2 kids on your own. However, if you have a partner then I'm sure you can arrange it between the two of you to get a little time a few times a week to exercise.
    I've been there. It's hard work but is do-able if you really want to do it. Once you get a little fitter a 19 mile bike ride isn't really that much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    Being physically fit and healthy is very much a lifestyle choice. You have to WANT to go out there and be healthy. I personally get a huge kick from cycling my butt off up the valley where I live. Looking down over my town at the end is very rewarding, better than sitting at home watching something I don't really care about on the TV. I went from a 36 inch waist to a 30.5 inch waist in 3 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    #353 Agree with #356. Try and forget about the breathing. If you need 1 breath per stroke then so be it. Just concentrate on a smooth rhythm. I can't do breast stroke so I don't bother trying. I just kept on the front crawl until I got something worked out that worked for me. Ironically I suspect I burnt more calories when I was a poor swimmer. I flailed around going nowhere!

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    18 months ago I lost 3 stone by dieting and 30 minutes on my excercise bike a day. I am a stay at home Dad and it was difficult to find 30 minutes away from a 2 year old. I worked out a routine to get everything done before his 45 min nap to allow me to excercise and have a quick shower while he slept. His naps are now shorter so I often don't get time and can feel the difference in energy levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    With sports teams comes- socials, physical activity, fitness, beer.

    With retirement from these sports comes - socials, beer, knackered joints, difficulty exercising, a bit of a belly.

    This is the path I intend to take! Best of both

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    I have 2 small kids and work long hours in an office, come home and rarely am done for the day until gone 9pm. Weekends are playing catch up with housework, shopping and chores. I couldn't possibly earn as much in any physical job and walking/cycling to work is impossible due to 19 mile distance. Can all the smart alec's on here pls square the circle for me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.


    "The BBC "documentary" " the men who made us fat".. worst bits of "science" I'd.. seen &.. promoted 'its not my fault, its the fructose..."

    In these PC days boundaries of knowledge are constructed around people's sensitivities. "If it's true for you, it's true" is the mantra. People are encouraged to believe falsehoods which make them feel better about themselves! Science - RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    353 Art, there is no real benfit in doing 4 strokes to a breath compared to 3. Have you been watching the world champs, especially the longer distances, it's about being smooth. Then the big boys will get in a do 50m without breathing once.

    I am an international level masters swimmer in my 60s, and if i am racing, i won't breath on 25m, maybe once or twice over 50m, and every 7 strokes on 100m

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    ‘ There has only been one government since the 2012 Olympics'

    But any legacy depended on the planning between 2005 and 2012 as well as on actions since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Rubbish - most of the adult population get masses of exercise putting their hands in their pockets to pay for something or other...

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    310/317 - thank you ! I really try to do 3 per breath but want to do 4 - end up exhausted not from fatigue but from going from 4 to 3 to 2 and back again ...anyone else want to exchange fitness / technique tips ? Apart from swimming badly I do lots of different sports which I find not only keeps me interested in exercise but increases my fitness .

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    344 Mick
    Before I started working in London I was extremely fit, I used to swim, exercise, sail at weekend - now I seem to spend all day sitting down and trying to find time to do more than sleep when I get time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    337. surfingkenny
    Gym memberships are the biggest rip off out there, spend 3400 a year on something you may use religously for 3 months
    Where the hell do you live? £3400 a year is £283 a month. For that I'd want Jess Ennis as a personal trainer. My pass costs me £18.33 a month (1 big pizza). If you want to get fit not pose try the local leisure centre or YMCA. It'll be basic but it works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Do you exercise enough?

    Enough for what ?

    Do you ?

    Great, that's that sorted then ....

    News please BBC - remember that ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    All those ill-exercised people must be those who block my way on escalators, too lazy to walk down, never mind up. I am usually the only one on the walking side, outside the rush hour, so I pass many fat bottoms. Get moving folks, before I succumb to apoplexy. I am older than mkost of you, and sick of hearing about the need to go to a gym. There were fewer fatties when only athletes went to gyms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    ‘[Tam Fry] blamed successive governments for failing to ensure that the London 2012 Olympics inspired people to participate in grassroots sport’. Doh! There has only been one government since the 2012 Olympics (and that’s the point). This government are all spin and no delivery (I’m not talking about cricket) and have failed to produce any kind of worthwhile Olympic legacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    I can believe this, to continue on the double yellow line story from yesterday, far too many cannot be bothered to walk the extra yards and park on double yellows with their hazard lights on.

  • 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.


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