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Adults’ activity levels in England bounce back to pre-pandemic levels

April 22 2023 - News Release News Editorial

The number of people playing sport and taking part in physical activity has returned to where it was before Covid-19, but inequalities remain.

Adults’ activity levels in England bounce back to pre-pandemic levels

Activity levels for adults in England increased last year and have bounced back to where they were before the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The figures, which we’ve published today, show that the overall number of people playing sport and getting active has recovered, after participation fell as a result of the restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.


Key findings

Our latest Active Lives Adult Survey report is the first release to cover a period without any coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions since the pandemic.

It shows , between November 2021 and November 2022, 63.1% (29.1 million) of the population met the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of doing 150 minutes, or more, of moderate intensity physical activity a week – an increase of 1.7% year on year.

This means that, compared with when we first ran the survey between November 2015 and November 2016, there are 1.5m more active adults – a statistically significant number.

The number of people classed as inactive – averaging fewer than 30 minutes a week – has fallen over the last year by 1.4%, to 25.8% of the population (11.9m). This remains slightly above pre-pandemic levels but is in line with where they were in 2015-16.

The ongoing recovery wasn’t guaranteed and is testament to the dedication of those working and volunteering in sport and physical activity, as well as the significant investment of exchequer and National Lottery money, that has helped the sector not just to survive the worst of the pandemic but to bounce back.

Types of activity

Today’s report also gives us a detailed understanding of the types of activities people are undertaking and how these have changed over time.

Team sports, which were severely hit by the impact of Covid-19, have overall recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Football (up 561k year on year), cricket (up 124k), netball (up 139k) and basketball (up 57k) have seen an increase in participation numbers since restrictions were lifted.

This is important as people who play team sports are more likely to report they find sport and exercise enjoyable and satisfying than who take part in other forms of activity.

The release shows that the number of people walking for leisure – which boomed during lockdowns – has understandably fallen back but remains well above its pre-Covid-19 figure.

Conversely, fitness activities and active travel saw big drops during the pandemic but have seen significant rises over the last 12 months, although both remain below their pre-coronavirus levels.

An in-depth analysis of the types of activity people took part in is available further down this webpage.

Demographic variations

However, while the overall picture is positive and there is clear progress, the data shows that the scale of recovery has varied across different sections of society with women, those from lower socio-economic groups and Black and Asian people still less likely to be active than others.

It’s why our strategy, Uniting the Movement, has a strong focus on tackling inequalities, and why we’re investing more in the people and places that need extra support.

Variations by age

Age continues to be a major factor that determines how likely a person is to be physically active, and the older a person is the less likely they are to meet the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines.

However, this masks some long-term trends and, despite a significant recovery over the last year, there are now nearly half a million fewer active young people (aged 16-34) than six years ago.

Conversely, we were seeing significant progress in older adults’ activity levels prior to the pandemic and these continued to increase once restrictions were lifted. There are now 1.3m (5.0%) more active 55-74-year-olds and just over half a million (7.8%) more active people aged 75+ than there were in November 2015-16.

Addressing the long-term decline in young adults activity levels remains a priority for us and we’ll continue to work with our partners to ensure activity offerings appeal to this younger generation so they can benefit from the profound health, social and personal benefits that being active brings.

Variations by place

Activity levels fell across all places during the pandemic. However, Covid-19’s impact on activity levels was greatest in the most deprived places (IMD 1-3).

Today’s report shows that the scale of recovery also differs by deprivation level.

The least deprived places (IMD 8-10) have seen a full return to pre-pandemic activity levels, while mid-deprived places (IMD 4-7) have seen a partial recovery but remain 0.8% down. These places’ activity levels are still above where they were in November 2015-16 (up 1.0%) when we started the survey.

However, the most deprived places (IMD 1-3) have fared far worse, with activity levels remaining below both pre-pandemic (down 3.1%) and November 2015-16 levels (down 2.6%).

Expanding our place-based working by collaborating with more places on their local priorities and partnership opportunities, and helping them use sport and physical activity to deliver the outcomes they want and their communities need, is a key part of our Uniting the Movement strategy and we’ll be focussing our efforts in the most deprived places where we can make the biggest impact.

A detailed breakdown of how people’s relationship with sport and physical activity, and attitudes towards it, varies across different demographics is available further down this webpage.

How this compares to our findings on children’s activity levels

Today’s report compliments our Active Lives Children and Young People Survey we published in December. That report, which focussed on children’s activity levels across the 2021-22 academic year, showed a similar return to pre-pandemic activity levels, albeit with some concerns about demographic groups.

Download the report

Click on the link below to read our report – if embedded links in the PDF do not function correctly in Google Chrome, please use another browser, or open the report in a dedicated PDF viewer:

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