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Publication, Part of

Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2020

Official statistics, National statistics

National Statistics

Part 5: Physical activity

The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle are well documented and there is a large amount of evidence to suggest that regular activity is related to reduced incidence of many chronic conditions. Physical activity contributes to a wide range of health benefits and regular physical activity can improve health outcomes irrespective of whether individuals achieve weight loss.

In 2019 new guidelines on the amount of activity recommended for health were published by the Chief Medical Officers of the four UK countries. This states that:

  • Adults (aged 19 and over) should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week, or a combination of both.
  • Adults should also aim to build strength on at least two days a week.
  • Children and young people (aged 5 to 18) should aim to be physically active for at least 60 minutes per day across the week.

In 2015 the UK government published ‘Sporting Future’, a new strategy for sport and physical activity, which includes 23 new key performance indicators to monitor outputs.

The main data sources used in this section are:

  • Adult activity data is taken from the Public Health England physical activity profiles, which is based on analysis of data from Sport England’s adult Active Lives Survey (ALS), with responses based on the 12 months to November 2019. In the ALS, gardening is excluded from the measure of physical activity, but is included in the government targets, and hence the PHE analysis. The PHE analysis is also based on adults aged 19 and over, rather than 16 and over in the ALS.
  • Child activity data is taken from Sport England's Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (ALS CYP) for the academic year 2018/19. This is based on a survey of persons aged 5-16 in England, and covers measures of activity levels, physical literacy, swimming proficiency, wellbeing, self-efficacy and levels of social trust.
  • Walking and cycling information is taken from the Department of Transport’s National Travel Survey, as presented in the Walking and Cycling Statistics 2018 publication. It covers persons of all ages.

Adult physical activity

Adult physical activity by gender

In the 12 months to November 2019, around two thirds of adults (67%) were considered active as per the government guidelines. 21% were considered to be inactive (<30 minutes on average per week).

Men (70%) were more likely to be active than women (65%).

Adult physical activity by age group

The most active group are those aged 19-24 with 74% considered active. After this levels remain similar (between 68% and 71%), until a decline at ages 75-84 (53% active) and age 85+ (31% active). 

Adult physical activity by deprivation level

Deprivation level is based on Index of Multiple Deprivation scores for English Lower Super Output Areas, grouped into deciles.

Activity levels decrease as deprivation increases, from 73% active in the least deprived areas, to 57% in the most deprived areas.

Adult physical activity by Local Authority

Please note that Local Authority data is based on the organisational structure active on April 1st 2019.

The proportion of adults classified as active ranged from 47% to 82% across Local Authorities.

City of London, Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames. Brighton & Hove, Bath & North East Somerset, Islington, Wokingham, and York all had proportions active above 75%.

Barking & Dagenham, Stoke-on-Trent, Sandwell, and Rotherham had proportions active of less than 55%.


For more data/information on this section: 

Public Health England physical activity profiles

Sport England Active Lives Survey


Walking and cycling activity

Definitions In this section are as follows.

A trip is a one-way course of travel with a single main purpose. A “cycling trip” is one where the greatest part was cycled. Trips consist of one or more stages. A new stage is defined when there is a change in the mode of transport.

Data on walking includes all walks over 50 yards on the public highway. See the source publication for further details.


Summary of walking activity

In 2018, the average person:

  • made 262 walking trips and 347 walking stages.
  • walked 210 miles.
  • spent about 83 minutes per week travelling by foot.
  • walked for an average of 16 minutes per trip.

Trends in walking activity

In 2018, the average number of walking stages per person per year increased, but the distance travelled remained at similar levels to previous years. On average, women made 23 more walking trips than men.

Summary of cycling activity

In 2018, the average person:

  • made 17 cycling trips and 18 cycling stages.
  • cycled 58 miles.
  • spent about 8 minutes per week travelling by bike.
  • cycled for an average of 23 minutes per trip.

Trends in cycling activity

In 2018, the average number of miles cycled slightly decreased , but the number of cycling stages remained at a similar level to previous years. Men cycle more often and further than women, taking 25 trips compared to 10 trips.


For more data/information on this section: 

Department of Transport: Walking and Cycling Statistics, England, 2018


Childhood physical activity

Childhood physical activity by gender

Based on the 2018/19 academic year, 47% of children and young people are meeting the current guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more every day. This is an increase from 43% in 2017/18.

A further 24% are fairly active, taking part for an average of between 30-59 minutes per day, whilst 29% do less than an average of 30 minutes a day.

Boys (51%) are more likely to be active than girls (43%).

Childhood physical activity by family affluence

The Family Affluence Scale provides an indication of the social status of children and young people’s families. The scale is derived from a series of questions about their home and family such as car ownership, computers, and foreign holidays.

Results show some significant inequalities in activity levels, based on family income.

In total, 35% of children in the least affluent families do fewer than 30 minutes of activity a day, compared to 22% of children from the most affluent families.


For more data/information on this section: 

Sport England: Active Lives Children and Young People Survey 2018/19

Last edited: 8 July 2021 5:17 pm