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The impact of coronavirus on activity levels revealed

Our Active Lives Adult Survey shows the impact of the first eight months of coronavirus on activity levels, which activities grew in popularity and which audiences struggled.

The majority of physically active adults in England managed to maintain their habits despite the challenges of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to Sport England's latest Active Lives Adult Survey, with just 710,000 fewer active adults between November 2019 and November 2020 compared to the same period 12 months previously.

However, the first eight months of coronavirus restrictions, as well as the storms that had a huge impact on outdoor activity in early 2020, also led to a worrying increase in the number of people who were inactive – doing less than 30 minutes of activity a week or nothing at all.

Recently published, the report shows that while the restrictions associated with the pandemic had an unprecedented impact on activity levels, thanks in part to the support of the sport and physical activity sector, many people were able to adapt and find ways to return to activity as restrictions eased.

Not all groups or demographics were affected equally though, with women, young people aged 16-24, over 75s, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, and those from Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic backgrounds most negatively impacted beyond the initial lockdown period.

The findings also show how people's relationship with sport and physical activity changed across the various different phases of coronavirus restrictions, who returned to activity once restrictions eased, and who didn’t.

The information available will be beneficial to the sport and physical activity sector as restrictions continue to ease this summer and as the weather improves and consumer confidence increases due to the vaccine rollout.

The Scale of disruption.

The pandemic led to unprecedented decreases in activity levels during the initial restrictions and, as a result, the latest annual results show the following changes compared to 12 months earlier:

  • 710,000 (-1.9%) fewer active adults meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of taking part in 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week, taking the total number of active adults to 27.9 million (61.4% of the population)

  • 1.2m (+2.6%) more inactive adults taking part in less than an average of 30 minutes a week, taking the total number of inactive adults in England to 12.3m (27.1% of the population).

This, however, masks the scale of the changes seen during the impacted months.

Activity levels were hit hardest during the initial phase of the pandemic (the national lockdown between mid-March and mid-May) and the proportion of the population classed as active dropped by 7.1% – or by just over 3m fewer active adults – compared to the 12 months before.

During the second phase, as restrictions were eased, activity levels were still down compared to the previous 12 months, but the reductions were smaller, with 4.4%/2.0m fewer active adults across mid-May to mid-July and 3.1%/1.4m fewer active adults across mid-July to mid-September.

In the third phase of the pandemic, as new restrictions were imposed but before the full impact of the new national lockdown in November was felt, activity levels decreased by 1.8% and there were 810,000 fewer active adults.

There were patterns in the way that different groups and demographics responded to the easing of restrictions, however, with women less likely to return to activity than men.

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