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Are the public losing their motivation to be active?

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Julian Dailly EVP 05/05/2020

Coronavirus daily tracker: May 5th 2020

The data shows that key indicators of attitudes towards exercise such as enjoyment and satisfaction as well as perceived importance have decreased

A third (35%) of people also said they had carried out more exercise than in a typical week before the pandemic hit.

Since Boris Johnson announced COVID-19 restrictions on Monday 23rd March, exercise has never seemed more popular.

We have all seen the pictures of cyclists taking to our parks to enjoy their government-mandated daily form of exercise. Joe Wicks has shot to fame and become your (and your child’s) favourite fitness mogul, and Facebook and Twitter have been awash with screenshots of 5km running times. But as we reach six weeks of lockdown and with no clear idea of when social distancing rules will be relaxed, is there a danger of the public losing their motivation to be active?

The impact of lockdown on our activity levels so far

Before we can answer that question, it is worth exploring the impact restrictions have had on our activity levels. Since 3rd April, we have partnered with Sport England to carry out a weekly survey of English adults aged 16+ to explore the amount and type of exercise undertaken and how attitudes and behaviours towards physical activity are shifting during COVID-19 restrictions.

Research carried out between 24th-27th April showed that although a third (34%) of adults said they had exercised less in the past week than in a typical week before the lockdown, a  third (35%) also said they had carried out more exercise than in a typical week before the pandemic hit.

Two in five (39%) reported that in the previous week, they managed to do 30 minutes or more physical activity on 2-4 days, while a further 32% said they had managed the same on more than five days. This suggests that despite the closure of our most common exercise hubs such as gyms and leisure centres, many of us have found ways to remain active.

However, several demographics such as older adults and people with low incomes are significantly more likely to report lower activity levels than before the outbreak, suggesting that COVID-19 restrictions are impacting sub-groups differently and there is no single uniform experience.

Changing attitudes towards exercise

Our fourth and most recent week of research also indicates that enthusiasm among English adults to be active may be starting to wear thin and exercise levels may be about to dip.

Fewer people in our fourth week of research agreed that they find exercise to be enjoyable and satisfying than in any of the previous weeks of research. Similarly, in our latest week of polling, fewer English adults than in any other week said that exercise is important to them and that they exercise to manage their physical health.

In addition to this, our daily COVID-19 tracker found that 13% of UK adults reported that their physical health has got worse since the COVID-19 outbreak, the highest proportion since we started tracking data on 10th April.

Although statistics do not yet show a downturn in reported physical activity, attitudes may be changing and perhaps for some, the novelty of regular exercise is starting to wear thin.

Whether more downbeat attitudes continue and convert into lower activity levels is yet to be seen. Future waves of research will continue to explore the impact of lockdown on our activity levels and how the expected extension of COVID-19 restrictions changes our attitudes and behaviours towards exercise.

The Active team at Savanta ComRes works regularly with sports and fitness bodies that promote greater physical activity and exercise levels to improve public health. Get in touch below to learn more.


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