COVID-19 Insight Briefing

To supplement the Active Lives Surveys (Adult and Children & Young People), Sport England are publishing a series of briefings providing a regular picture of physical activity behaviours and attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sport England are surveying a c.2000 adults each week. The survey explores the changes in people’s activity levels during the pandemic, including the frequency of exercise and also the type of activity people are taking part in. It also looks at people’s attitudes towards physical activity, and asks parents how their children have changed their exercise habits since the Covid-19 restrictions.

Data has been weighted to be representative of adults in England by age, gender, region and social grade, including those with children aged under 16 in their households.

From the 25th of May onwards, surveys will take place on a monthly basis, with ad hoc waves at other times in response to specific changes to restrictions or other identified needs.

Headlines for 31 July - 3 August 2020

The 11th wave of surveys took place between 31st July and 3rd August 2020.

Positive experiences as people return to indoor facilities, but numbers may be slow to return

  • Of those who visited gyms, pools or other indoor sports facilities, around three-quarters reported seeing safety measures in place. More than half reported that measures felt ‘about right’, though a third found them
    inadequate. Around two-thirds of gym and pool users said they felt comfortable, and around three-quarters said they enjoyed their activity.
  • Two-thirds of those who did not visit an indoor sports facility this week say they are very unlikely to visit in the next 28 days.
  • 74% of gym members say they are likely to return, though this is lower than the 84% reported in wave 5. 22% of non-members say they are likely to join, lower than the 27% reported in wave 5.

Regular physical activity unchanged as big activities falter and returning activities try to recover

  • With much of society and most sports facilities now reopen with social distancing and safety measures in place, regular adult physical activity remains at its joint lowest since lockdown started, with 27% achieving 5+ x 30. C2DE and 55+ groups recorded their lowest levels yet (both 24%).
  • Walking, cycling, running and home activity have all fallen in waves 10 and 11 compared to other recent waves, while newly resumed activities including gym and swimming have not yet recovered to the levels we might expect.
  • Children’s physical activity appears to have picked up slightly over waves 9 and 10, perhaps due to the summer holidays.

The continuing lockdown may be straining people’s ability and motivations to be active

  • Agreement levels with all five of our COM-B statements have fallen to their lowest point since full lockdown (waves 1-6), with the lowest level yet agreeing they find exercise enjoyable and satisfying (55%).
  • The proportions agreeing they exercise to help their physical (67%) or mental health (62%) have both fallen over recent waves. The lowest numbers yet agree they have more time to be active (63%), or that they’ve been encouraged to be active by Government guidance (42%). So too the lowest number report missing the types of activity they did before lockdown (49%) – though this could be because more activity is now available.
  • More people than in wave 10 say they worry about exercising close to other people (68%) and that they feel safer exercising at home than in public (67%).

Headlines for 10-14 July 2020

The 10th wave took place between 10 - 14th July 2020.

With pools, gyms and leisure centres still closed, adult physical activity levels feel the strain

  • 27% of adults achieved 30 minutes on 5 or more days in the last week; and 19% did not achieve it on any days.
  • Many groups saw a wave-on-wave fall in 5+ x 30. Among the biggest drops were 55+ (now 25%) and ABC1 (now 28%). The gender gap and other inequalities persist.
  • Children’s physical activity picks up slightly on wave 9, with 18% achieving an hour or more each day. (NB: interpret with caution due to return to school).
  • Three months on from our first survey, exercise continues to play a vital role to help people manage their physical (70%) & mental health (64%).

Walking and home activity fall; full range of activities now tracked

  • With some outdoor activities resuming, walking (58%) and home-based activity (34%) decrease - but remain the most popular ways to be active.
  • A full list of activities now shows participation in swimming, gym/fitness away from home, combat sports and more.
  • A new question suggests similar numbers intend to return to prelockdown activities, post-lockdown. Online fitness and swimming could benefit the most from increased participation once lockdown ends.

Attitudes and behaviours

  • Positive intentions as people look to the future, though challenges remain - 64% agree they will feel uncomfortable exercising close to other people.
  • Limited change in other attitudes and behaviours to physical activity suggests that greater leisure choice and competing demands on time may be unconsciously reducing participation in sport and activity.

Headlines for 19-22 June 2020

This 9th wave took place over 19th to 22nd June, four weeks after wave 8. It took place before the government’s announcement (on 23rd June) about the further easing of restrictions from 4th July.

Physical activity falls as society starts to reopen

  • With many schools, shops and workplaces starting to reopen we have seen physical activity levels drop, with just 30% of adults achieving 5+ x 30 minutes or more physical activity in last week.
  • Children’s physical activity is at its lowest since wave 1: 12% did nothing and just 14% did an hour or more. In most activities, fewer adults are participating with children compared to previous weeks. (NB: interpret with caution due to return to school).
  • Many groups saw a wave-on-wave fall in 5+ x 30. Among the biggest decreases were Women (27%), C2DE (26%), Long
    standing condition or illness (23%) and 16-34 (28%).

Home activity falls as some outdoor activities resume

  • Only 38% of people took part in home-based physical activity, down from 45% in wave 8.
  • Figures for walking, cycling and running remain high, other sports and activities – added for this wave – are also now registering.

Attitudes and behaviours

  • The lowest percentage yet say they miss the types of physical activity they used to do before lockdown (55%).
  • The highest percentage yet feel guilty for not exercising more (52%).
  • Worry about leaving the home to be active is at its lowest level yet (41%), though changes to social distancing could affect this (see below).

Good intentions but challenges as we move out of lockdown

  • 60% of people intend to be more active as lockdown eases and 62% intend to walk and cycle more for everyday journeys.
  • However, 32% feel coming out of lockdown will make it harder to be active. This figure is significantly higher for 16-34, ABC1, Asian, people with children, people currently furloughed or on reduced hours, and people with caring responsibilities than for other groups.
  • If social distancing is reduced, 62% say they will feel more concerned about being active in indoor spaces, much higher than for outdoor spaces (38%).
  • Social distancing is also the top answer (13%) for what support, measures or guidance would help people return to physical activity.

Headlines for 22-25 May 2020

Physical activity levels hold up on previous week; some inequalities lessen

Some inequalities have lessened when looking at 5 x 30 figures

  • 33% of C2DE, the highest figure yet.
  • 29% for Disability or lngstanding condition, the highest figure yet.
  • 33% of females (vs 35% males), the highest since week 1.

Running/jogging peaks, as does informal play at home

  • 22% of people did running/jogging, the highest figure yet.
  • 19% did informal pay at home or in the garden, also the highest figure yet.
  • 'Other' sport and physical activity (7%) picks up slightly as restrictions ease

People find it easier to be active

  • More people agree they have more time now to be active (70%, highest yet).
  • 41% found it easier to be active this week, an increase over week 7 (36%).
  • Limited movement on other attitudes.

Sources of trusted information about returning to sport and physical activity

  • The NHS, Central Government, The BBC, Friends and Family, and Local Councils are the top 5 sources of trusted information on returning to physical activity.
  • Trusted sources vary across demographic groups.

Headlines for 15-18 May 2020

In the first week since lockdown restrictions were eased, activity levels were at their highest since the survey began – but yet the inequalities remained.

  • 29% of adults did less activity this week than the week before, while 23% did more
  • 65% of adults think it’s more important to be active during the outbreak compared to other times
  • 73% of adults agree exercise is helping them manage their physical health, with 66% using it to manage their mental health
  • 65% of adults walked in the last week, 20% jogged, 16% cycled and 45% did home-based activity
  • 34% of children, according to adults in their household, are doing fewer than 30 minutes of activity a day, while 20% are doing more than an hour.

Almost every group surveyed saw an increase in their activity levels – many to their highest level since the survey began – but there are still inequalities in people’s activity levels.

Only 11% of people said they did no activity in the last week, the lowest figure yet, while 35% of adults said they did at least 30 minutes of activity, at least five times a week – the highest figure yet.

And while only 7% of children did no activity, the lowest yet, the number of children doing fewer than 30 minutes of activity a day increased from 30% to 34%, while the number doing more than an hour a day went from 22% to 20%.

Walking and cycling both hit peak figures, while people’s attitudes and motivations towards physical activity continue to be positive.

Headlines for 8-11 May 2020

Activity levels are unchanged, but so too inequalities - Currently 33% of adults say they are doing more than usual, and 37% say they are doing less.

The gender gap persists - Men are more likely to do 5 x 30 than women; while women are more likely to be doing less activity than usual.

Inequalities remain - The picture of inequalities is similar to previous weeks. 

Growth in walking and cycling

  • Walking hits a peak of 63%, an increase over wave 1 (59%).
  • Cycling (13%) has also increased over waves 1 (8%) and 2 (10%).
  • Home-based activity fell to 43% this wave compared to last week’s high of 48%.

Attitudes and motivations holding strong

  • Last week’s COM-B increases held this week, with the highest figures so far for ability (69%), Important (69%) and opportunity (67%) to exercise.
  • Significantly fewer people worry about leaving their house to exercise (54%), or feel guilty about wanting to exercise (26%).
  • The highest figure so far (64%) feel it’s more important to exercise at the moment.

Forming new habits and returning to old one

  • Walking, running, general exercise/fitness and cycling are the most common new habits people want to continue .
  • Gym work, swimming and walking are the most common activities people are looking forward to resuming.

Headlines for 1-4 May 2020

Activity levels are unchanged for adults and children

  • Although we’ve seen a decrease in adults doing 0 x 30 over wave 1. Currently 35% of adults say they are doing more than usual, and 36% say they are doing less.
  • 61% of adults think it’s more important to be active during the outbreak compared to other times
  • 67% of adults agree exercise is helping them manage their physical health, with 62% using it to manage their mental health
  • 61% of adults walked in the last week, 19% jogged, 13% cycled and 48% did home-based activity
  • 35% of children, according to adults in their household, are doing fewer than 30 minutes of activity a day, while 19% are doing more than an hour

The gender gap persists

  • The gender gap persists when using the 5 x 30 measure, but the figures for each gender saying they are doing more or less than usual are much closer this week

Home-based activity has picked up

  • After a slight drop last week, home based activity has picked up with its highest figure yet (48%).
  • Walking (61%), running or jogging (19%) and cycling (13%) held steady.
  • 84% of gym or leisure centre members say they are likely to resume their membership when facilities reopen, while 27% of non-members say they are likely to join.

Attitudes around motivation have improved slightly after last week’s apparent waning

  • We also saw an increase in people agreeing they have the ability and the opportunity to be active. And we’ve seen an increase over wave 1 in the number of people saying they’ve found new ways to be active.

Inequalities - For this wave Sport England have produced a visual table showing the effect of the lockdown on the physical activity of different groups, highlighting the inequalities. Please look at the full report attached for this table. 

Headlines for 24-27 April 2020

  • Adults are reporting consistent physical activity levels over lockdown; however, more people now feel they are doing more – than less – physical activity than usual
  • Overall physical activity levels (as measured by the SIM*) are unchanged over 4 weeks. However, the proportions saying they are doing more or less than usual have shifted significantly. The reasons for this are unclear, but it could suggest people’s perceptions of what was ‘usual’ (pre-lockdown) have changed.
  • Wave 1:  31% more / 41% less  Wave 4: 35% more / 34% less.
  • The gender gap widens, % adults doing 30 mins physical activity on 5+ days
  • Wave 1: Male 32%, Female 35%   Wave 4: Male 36%, Female 28%
  • Home-based activity declines further, however outdoor numbers remain strong
  • Half of sport volunteers are still volunteering
  • People may be losing the motivation to be active
  • Other changes suggest people are finding it easier to be active
  • Fewer people worry about leaving home to exercise or be active
  • Inequalities continue: Women, older people, people on low incomes, people living alone, people without children in the household, people with a longstanding condition or illness, people self-isolating because they are at increased risk, and people without access to private outdoor space.

Headlines for 17-20 April 2020

  • Adults are reporting similar levels of physical activity to the previous week, but the ‘more/less’ gap has narrowed.
  • Wave 1: 31% more / 41% less. Wave 3: 34% more / 38% less
  • There is an emerging gender gap as males are more likely to be exercising more.
  • Decline in online exercise as people adjust to exercising out of the home
  • Participation in online/digital exercise has declined from 23% in wave 1 to 19% in wave 3.
  • We have seen a significant increase in cycling compared to waves 1 and 2 from 8% to 12%.
  • Running/jogging has also significantly increased from wave 2 from 16% to 19%
  • Fewer people this wave report worrying about leaving their home to exercise (56% compared to 60% in waves 1 and 2
  • A quarter of people exercising online cited Joe Wicks as the most useful instructor or influencer (26%).

Headlines for 10-14 April 2020

  • Adults are reporting similar levels of physical activity to the previous week.
  • According to adults, children have been slightly more active than they were the previous week. 18% of children are doing an hour or more of daily physical activity compared with 14% the previous week. A higher proportion of children (35%) are doing more physical activity than before the outbreak (as reported by adults).
  • There are still differences in levels of activity between different demographic groups.
  • People’s current feelings about physical activity are mostly similar to the previous week.

Headlines 3-6 April 2020

  • There has been a massive disruption in the physical activity behaviours of adults and children in England. 31% of adults did more and 41% did less physical activity in the last week compared to before the restrictions. In the same period 30% of children did more and 38% did less compared to pre-restriction levels.
  • There is a recognition of the importance of physical activity in response to the pandemic. 62% of adults think it is more important to be active during the outbreak compared to other times.
  • The majority of adults are using physical activity to help them manage their health. 69% of adults agree that exercise is helping them manage their physical health, whilst 65% agree it is helping them manage their mental health.
  • The Government’s messages about exercise may be having a positive impact.
  • 53% of adults in England agree that they have been encouraged to exercise by the Government’s guidance.
  • 59% of adults walked in the last week
  • 44% did online fitness, offline fitness or informal activity in the home
  • 18% went jogging
  • 8% cycled
  • There are differences in levels of activity between different demographic groups. Older people, people on low incomes and people in urban areas are finding it harder to be active during the outbreak.