The Active Lives Adult Survey Provides a Snapshot of England’s Activity Habits

The latest figures from the new format Active Lives Adult Survey, which replaced the Active People Survey (APS), show 27.7 million people (61.8%) of the 16+ population in England are active.

In other words, they meet the Chief Medical Officer for England’s guidelines to do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week – and thereby gaining a variety of health benefits including a reduced risk of dementia, depression, diabetes, and improved mental well-being. Intensity of activity is defined as:

  • Moderate activity: Activity where you raise your heart rate and feel a little out of breath.
  • Vigorous activity: Activity where you are breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has increased significantly (you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath).

In contrast, 11.5 million people (25.7%) are classed as inactive, meaning they do less than 30 minutes of physical activity each week.

Based on a sample of almost 200,000 survey respondents, the results demonstrate that activity levels in England are stable. The survey figures cover the 12-month period from November 2016 to November 2017, and was published on 22 March 2018.

The survey outlines how people are choosing to be active, with walking remaining the most popular activity, with 18.6 million people walking for leisure and 14.5 million walking for travel, up by 423,000.  Overall, 13.3 million people participated in fitness activities (as defined below) during the survey period.

The survey also highlights the increase in the number of people doing interval training sessions, such as HIIT – up by 518,000. The technical summary for May 2016-17 notes that fitness activities includes:

  • Combining several activities in a gym.
  • Fitness machines such as Cross training machine (e.g. Cross trainer, SkiErg), Exercise bike, Rowing machine, Step machine, Treadmill, Other exercise machine.
  • Fitness class such as Pilates, Yoga, Boxing class (e.g. Boxercise, body combat), Cardio class (e.g. aerobics, step aerobics, body attack), Core strength class (e.g. legs bums and tums, body balance), Cycle class (e.g. spinning, RPM), Dance-based class (e.g. Zumba, fitsteps, ravercise or body jam), Water-based class (e.g. aquaerobics, aquafit), Weights-based class (e.g. body pump, kettlebell), Other fitness or exercise class.
  • Weights session such as Resistance weights machines, Free weights (includes kettlebells and dumb-bells), Weightlifting or power-lifting (using a barbell).
  • Interval sessions, such as Circuit training, Cross training, Bootcamp (e.g. drill sergeant, military fitness), Cross fit, High intensity (e.g. HIT, insanity).
  • Generic fitness session, such as Body weight exercises (e.g. pull ups, press ups, sit ups), Skipping, Aerial fitness.

The survey suggests that 1 in 5 (20%) of people did their interval training sessions at home, and 3 in 4 (75%) in a leisure/fitness/sport centre or gym. A significant proportion of the people doing interval sessions (47%) are young people, aged 16-34, which coincides with an increase in the number of HIIT classes available for free on social media platforms, for example YouTube.

  • In November 2016, 1.9 million people participated in interval training, which increased to 2.4 million by November 2017.
  • In November 2016, 6.3 million people participated in fitness classes, which increased to 6.5 million by November 2017.

In contrast, swimming and cycling have both decreased in popularity, with almost 283,000 fewer people swimming regularly, and 93,000 fewer people cycling. Adventure sports have also enjoyed a boost in popularity, with 337,000 more people taking part in activities such as hill and mountain walking, rock climbing, abseiling, orienteering, or high ropes.

The difference in activity levels between the lower and higher socioeconomic groups has stabilised, however, people on lower incomes and disabled people are still much less likely to be active enough to benefit their health.

With regards to age, older people are getting more active with those aged 55-74 meeting the 150 minutes threshold increasing by 1.3%, to 58.3%. This is important given that England (and the UK) has an ageing population. Brisk walking, including hill and mountain walking, appears to be driving this increase.

Although the overall activity levels of England are stable, people are choosing to move with the times. For example, the popularity of HIIT demonstrates the power of social media, and many older people are choosing to spend their leisure time in the great outdoors.

You can read the November 2016-17 report here.

The fourth Active Lives Adult Survey Report (May 2017 to 2018) is due to be released in October 2018.


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