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Physical activity during lockdown: the story so far...

Our research and evaluation manager Tim Fitches blogs on what we've learned about people's behaviours and attitudes to physical activity during lockdown.

22nd May 2020

Over the last six weeks, we’ve published a weekly survey by Savanta ComRes that reveals the public’s behaviours and attitudes towards sport and physical activity during the coronavirus lockdown.

The findings have directly informed our response to the pandemic and, with the country taking its first tentative steps out of full lockdown, it’s a good time to take stock and consider the story so far.

Disruption, but a new appreciation of being active

It’s clear that being active still matters to people – now perhaps more than ever.

Overall, activity levels have held up throughout and we’ve seen many people resiliently and resolutely choose to stay active in whatever way they can.

Feelings and motivations have wobbled but stabilised and, for many, the virus has been a stark reminder of the intrinsic enjoyment of being active and the benefits it brings.

As sport shut down and clubs and facilities closed their doors, the lockdown became an opportunity (if not a necessarily welcome one) to try new things and build new habits and experiences.

Indeed, many people told us that they have discovered walking, jogging and cycling and they want to continue these beyond lockdown.

New habits, but the same inequalities

However, looking below the surface we see familiar inequalities replicated, even exacerbated.

The whole population has been affected, but not affected equally.

A person’s gender, affluence, ethnicity, disability and age all have a huge impact on their likelihood to be active and the demographic groups and audiences we were focusing on prior to the pandemic are still finding it harder to be active.

Our survey shows that females and people with longstanding conditions are less likely to say they enjoy solitary exercise and are also more likely to worry about leaving their homes to exercise.

Females place a greater importance on being active during the pandemic, yet are more likely to feel their exercise regimes have been disrupted.

Those aged over 55, with a longstanding condition, or from less affluent groups, are less likely to say they’ve found new ways to be active during the lockdown and are less likely to say they are exercising to help with their physical health.

On top of this, these groups feel less able to be active, are finding it less enjoyable, and are placing less importance on regular exercise.

Activity across ethnicity – a complex picture

Looking across ethnicity, the findings are more complex but just as interesting.

People from a White background were most likely to have been active for at least 30 minutes on five or more days, despite their motivations being notably lower than for other ethnicities.

Mixed, Asian and Black ethnicities are all more likely to feel they are doing more activity during lockdown than before, yet this doesn’t appear to be translating into more regular participation on five or more days.

People from a Chinese background, however, appear to have the lowest motivations, being least likely to say they enjoy physical activity and that it’s important to exercise regularly.

A women skips in the park

But there’s plenty to build on here.

People from Mixed, Asian and Black backgrounds were more likely to agree with the five COM-B statements about capability, opportunity and motivation that affect behaviour and were more likely to have been encouraged to exercise by the government guidance.

They’re also more likely to say they have found new ways to be active since the outbreak.

Looking across all of these less active groups, many of the current barriers and challenges aren’t new, but they’re now compounded by further ones specific to the situation.

For example, across the whole population we can see that people living alone, people without children in the household, and people without access to outdoor space, have all found it harder to be active.

Again, everyone is affected, but not everyone is affected equally.

The story goes on

So, what are the implications as we move forward?

It’s clear that while many have found ways to be active, many others have had yet more barriers put in their way.

What we learn now, about both sides of that equation, will give us crucial insight as we respond to and ultimately move out of the current crisis.

We’re also inviting you to find and tell your own stories with the data we’ve collected. We’ve launched a new interactive Power BI tool where you can explore and analyse the data yourself.

We’ll be adding new waves of data to this each week so please check it out, have a go, and share what you find with us at insight@sportengland.org.

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