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Physical Activity

Despite the widely reported benefits of physical activity, the majority of adults and many children across the UK are insufficiently active to meet the daily recommendations. There are clear and significant health inequalities in relation to physical inactivity according to income, gender, age, ethnicity and disability. Please click on the tabs below for more information.


Physical Activity Guidelines




Why Tackling Inactivity Matters

Inactivity is a problem that demands a long-term solution.

Around one in two women and a third of men in England are damaging their health through a lack of physical activity. This is unsustainable and costing the UK an estimated £7.4bn a year. If current trends continue, the increasing costs of health and social care will destabilise public services and take a toll on quality of life for individuals and communities.

  • over one in four women and one in five men do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week, so are classified as ‘inactive’
  • physical inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK

Public Health England (PHE) wants to drive a step change in the public’s health. PHE recently identified seven priorities for the next ten years to tackle the behaviour that increases the risk of poor mental and physical health. Tackling physical inactivity is critical to delivering many of those priorities (eg, dementia, obesity and giving every child the best start in life).
We know from other high-income countries like Finland, the Netherlands and Germany, that this situation can be changed.


The solution is clear: everybody needs to become more active, every day.

A wealth of evidence shows that an active life is essential for physical and mental health and wellbeing. A number of diseases are currently on the increase and affecting people at an earlier age. They include cancer and diabetes, and conditions like obesity, hypertension and depression. Regular physical activity can guard us against these.

Being active at every age increases quality of life and everyone’s chances of remaining healthy and independent. The benefits don’t stop there. There are many other social, individual and emotional reasons to promote more physical activity. Being active plays a key role in brain development in early childhood and is also good for longer-term educational attainment. Increased energy levels boost workplace productivity and reduce sickness absence. An active population can even reduce levels of crime and antisocial behaviour.

Common Inequalities

For the UK to be an active nation and therefore in order for individuals to be active every day, physical activity needs to be embedded across every community in every aspect of life. The association between physical activity and leading a healthy, happy life means that issues of cost, access or cultural barriers need to be tackled.

Common inequalities:

• People living in the least prosperous areas are twice as likely to be physically inactive as those living in more prosperous areas.

• South East England has the highest proportion of men and women meeting recommended levels of physical activity; North West England has the lowest.

• Physical activity declines with age to the extent that by the age of 75 years only one in ten men and one in 20 women are active enough for good health.
• Between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of children aged two to 15 years meeting recommended physical activity levels fell from 28% to 21% for boys and 19% to 16% for girls.

• Disabled people are half as likely as non-disabled people to be active.
• Only one in four people with learning difficulties take part in physical activity each month compared to over half of those without a disability.

• Only 11% of Bangladeshi women and 26% of men are sufficiently active for good health compared with 25/37% of the general population.

• Men are more active than women in virtually every age group.
• Girls are less likely to take part in physical activity than boys, and participation begins to drop even more from the age of ten to 11-19.

Sexual orientation and gender identity
• Half of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people say they would not join a sports club, twice the number of their heterosexual counterparts.