ukactive reveals Scottish adults' decline in physical activity

Scotland is the only nation in the UK where a larger proportion of adults admit they are less physically active than they were five years ago, according to a survey from ukactive.

The findings show that 44% of Scottish adults say they are moving less than they were five years ago in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic – suggesting that activity levels in Scotland could be on the decline.

Polling organisation Savanta found that in contrast, just 21% of Scots think they are moving more than they did five years ago, which could have grave implications for the NHS as well as lost working days due to sickness.

The data shows that of the other nations, in England, 32% think they are moving less than they were five years ago, and the figure was the same for those from Northern Ireland (32%). In Wales, this was only slightly higher, with 34% saying that they are moving less than five years ago.

In 2019, the Scottish Health Survey showed that 66% of Scottish adults met the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) recommendation of at least 150 minutes (two-and-a-half hours) of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week.

In 2022, the figure dropped to 65% and for those that failed to meet the recommendation, the main reasons given were that their health was not good enough (41%), it was difficult to find time (22%) and not being interested (20%).

ukactive, the UK’s trade body for the physical activity sector, is calling on the main party leaders to urgently address physical inactivity in Scotland by looking at ways to drive participation and support the physical activity sector to grow and reach more people.

It is calling on the next Government to support the sector in building a long-term vision for facilities to support as many people as possible in accessing spaces to keep active. This can be achieved in part by the Government supporting the sector to grow through a permanent reduction in VAT for the sector, and a sustainable strategy for public leisure. 

Clemency Lion, director of research, policy and communications at ukactive, said: 'Our polling shows a troubling picture for Scotland’s physical activity levels and this will have a major impact on the health of the nation, which also has serious implications for economic productivity and growth.

'We want to see our political leaders urgently address physical inactivity to support the physical and mental health of the nation, which would lead to a more prosperous economy, reduced pressures on the health service and improve social cohesion within communities.

'Gyms, leisure centres and pools play an essential role in supporting health and wellbeing and we’re committed to working with both the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure our sector is deployed to meet the biggest challenges they face today.'

*The consumer poll was carried out by Savanta in June 2024 and polled 2,732 people across the UK.

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