At a glance
One in four people in England do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week. But our research also shows that those who do the least activity stand to benefit the most, even if it’s just small changes like gentle jogging, swimming or playing rounders in the park.
We know from the experience of other high-income countries, like Finland, the Netherlands and Germany, that this situation can be changed. So, we’re working towards helping everyone experience the benefits that taking part in sport and physical activity brings, including:
- Mental wellbeing
- Physical wellbeing
- Individual development
- Economic development
- Social and community development.
To do this, we want to work with new partners, and ones we’ve worked with before, to co-design innovative, different and experimental approaches that willl help reduce the number of inactive people in England.
Our strategy – Towards an Active Nation
Encouraging inactive people to get involved in sport and activity, through campaigns such as We Are Undefeatable, is a crucial part of our Towards an Active Nation strategy.
Our vision is that everyone in England, regardless of age, background or ability, feels able to take part in sport or activity.
This ambitious strategy means we’re going to need to work in different ways to make sure everyone can get the most out of getting active.
What we know
The figures on inactivity are stark. One in four of us do fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a week, while a staggering 1 in 6 deaths is caused by inactivity. That’s the same as smoking.
But it only takes a small amount of regular activity to make a big difference, especially for those who are least active. It’s no wonder physical activity has been described as a "miracle cure".
Now with a third full year of data, our Active Lives Adult Survey gives an updated comprehensive overview of adult (age 16+) sport and physical activity in England in the 12 months from May 2018 to May 2019.
The positive news is that in the 12 months to May 2019, the number of adults who were regularly active increased by almost 539,500. This takes us to 28.6 million regularly active adults, the highest activity levels ever recorded.
In contrast, the number of inactive adults has fallen by 122,900, which means that inactivity amongst adults in England is also at the lowest level ever.
These results have primarily been driven by an increase in the number of women who are regularly active. Activity levels are also up for disabled people and those with a long-term health condition.
There is, however, much still to be done, with persistent inequalities for those from the lowest income families and those from Black and South Asian backgrounds.
Making activity accessible
Extensive research tells us we don’t have to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity. Almost everyone knows it’s good for them, and most would like to do more. We need to make it an easy, practical, attractive choice, especially for people who tend not to take part in sport or activity now: women and girls, disabled people, those in lower socio-economic groups and older people.
It’s tempting to stereotype people who are inactive, particularly if you love sport and being active and can’t imagine not doing it. But people are inactive for a host of different reasons and their habits can vary dramatically at different times in their lives.
Programmes and projects must start with the needs of the individual – offering them activities when and where it suits them, and where they feel comfortable. From walking to table tennis, rounders to swimming, we know that these activities have a good track record of appealing to those who are inactive. The key is finding something enjoyable.
Physical inactivity care costs
The costs to the state of physical inactivity are high. According to the Everybody Active, Every Day governmental report, physical inactivity costs the UK an estimated £7.4 billion each year.
We commissioned the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University to show how much this inactivity costs individual local authorities. This was based on the proportion of the cost of treating five major diseases that can be attributed to people being inactive. The total cost for treating these diseases is much higher, therefore this is the proportion that can be related to physical inactivity.
The figures available in the downloadable table below shows the total treatment costs for five major diseases split by local authority area.
Start Active, Stay Active
In July 2011 the Chief Medical Officers from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales published Start Active, Stay Active, a joint report on physical activity which included guidelines on the levels of physical activity needed to provide population level changes in health.
Getting people active
Tacking Inactivity: Approach and investment guide
As part of our efforts to help people who are inactive become active, we’re spending at least £265 million to tackle inactivity as part of our Towards an Active Nation strategy.
Tacking Inactivity: A Guide to Sport England’s Approach and Investment, explains our investment approach in more detail. It’s ideal reading for organisations considering applying for funding from us or seeking to work in partnership with us.
We Are Undefeatable
We Are Undefeatable is a national campaign to support the 15 million people in England who live with one or more long-term health condition.
Launched in August 2019, it aims to help those with conditions such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis and Parkinson’s to build physical activity into their lives.
The campaign is led by a collaboration of 15 leading health and social care charities and benefits from our expertise and insight, along with National Lottery funding.
This Girl Can
This Girl Can is our nationwide campaign to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability.
This Girl Can believes that there’s no right way to get active – if it gets your heart rate up it counts. And we want more women to find what’s right for them.
The campaign celebrates active women who are doing their thing no matter how they look, how well they do it or how sweaty they get. In the process, we want to challenge the conventional idea of what exercise looks like and reach out to women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who feel left behind by traditional exercise.
In doing so, we’re aiming to inspire more women and girls to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement, time, money and energy are barriers that can be overcome.
Moving Healthcare Professionals
Moving Healthcare Professionals is a national partnership programme led by us and Public Health England. It’s designed to help support healthcare professionals in promoting physical activity to their patients.
Evidence shows that one in four patients would be more active if advised by a GP or nurse, yet nearly three quarters of GPs do not speak about the benefits of physical activity to patients due to either lack of knowledge, skills or confidence.
The programme provides peer-led training and is developing practical resources to support healthcare professionals implement the NICE guidance on physical activity. It also includes guidance for treatment of a breadth of conditions that recommend physical activity.
Tool and resources
Designed to be used by people within the sport and activity sector, MOVES is a tool that shows you the return on investment of projects, programmes and interventions for the health sector.
The tool compares groups that engage in physical activity with the same group as if they hadn’t taken part. It estimates the reduction in risk of seven long-term conditions and hip fracture from increased physical activity. The tool then assigns an economic value to the resulting health improvements created by the physical activity.
Learn more about MOVES and access the tool by clicking on the link below.
This investment guide explains our approach to tackling inactivity, with support and guidance for organisations who'd like to work with us.
Moving Healthcare Professionals is a national partnership programme helping healthcare professionals in promoting physical activity to their patients.
Find out who we're funding and why to tackle inactivity and economic disadvantage on a national scale.