The latest findings from the National Survey for Wales, released in November, reveal interesting insights into the physical activity habits of the Welsh population. A significant 60% of Welsh adults reported participating in physical activity at least once in the past month, while nearly 2 in 5 (39%) claimed to engage in physical activity at least three times per week. The survey further underscored the benefits of regular physical activity – those engaging in physical activities three or more times a week reported improved physical and mental well-being.
These findings complement insights presented by Savanta at the What Wales Thinks session, which took place earlier this year. During this session, Alex Farrell, a research consultant in the public sector team at Savanta, talked through the latest trends in physical activity behaviours and attitudes in Wales using data from the Wales Activity Tracker, a quarterly survey of Welsh adults which Sport Wales have commissioned Savanta to run since May 2020.
Is the Welsh public ready to exercise in the public settings again?
Highlights from the session included a demonstration of the steady recovery of comfort in being active in public settings since the Covid-19 pandemic. Participation in indoor activity has increased post-pandemic as Welsh adults are moving from home-base activity (which saw a peak in May 2020) to gym, fitness or exercises classes, swimming or team sports. This diversification of activity settings coincides with a steep improvement in confidence in being active in a variety of public settings. For example, in March 2021, just over 1 in 4 Welsh adults felt confident taking part in physical activity in swimming pools, a number that impressively climbed to over half (52%) by July 2023.
Mirroring the recent National Survey s findings, the Wales Activity tracker demonstrates that adults perceive physical activity as beneficial for both their physical (58%) and mental (56%) well-being. Younger generations (i.e. those under 54), in particular, place importance on the mental health benefits of being physically active (64%), as are those with young children (66%).
However, despite the positive impact regular physical activity can have on well-being, many Welsh adults are faced with barriers to participation.
- 1 in 5 (20%) Welsh adults believe that their local area lacks a sufficient number of sport and physical activity facilities, a challenge which is felt hardest by young people aged 16-34 (27%) and those who live in rural areas (28%)
- 2 in 5 Welsh adults (40%) say that the cost of living has had a negative impact on their ability to be active
Our research reveals that Welsh adults are making sacrifices to their physical activity due to the cost of living. Over 1 in 5 (21%) are cutting down on paid activities, with a similar proportion (22%) switching to cheaper or free activities. Spending less on clothing/equipment is another step being taken by almost 1 in 5 Welsh adults (19%), whilst an alarming 1 in 3 (31%) are simply doing less activity altogether as a result of the cost of living.
How does the cost of living affect different demographic groups?
The negative impacts of the cost of living on physical activity affect certain demographic groups more than others with:
- Over 1 in 10 women switching to online workouts to save money
- Almost 1 in 3 individuals with a mental health condition/illness are switching to cheaper/free activities
- Over 1 in 3 parents with young children (aged under 15 years) are taking part in a few paid activities
What do these changes in behaviour mean for the health, fitness and sport industry in Wales?
Whilst we know that physical activity behaviours have changed post – pandemic, with a move away from home-based activity, it is important to be considerate of the impact of the cost of living on this progress. As many people are having to make sacrifices and changes to their physical activity it’s vital to make sure that the available options support their needs and ultimately keeps them motivated to stay active.
Understanding that the post-pandemic physical activity preferences and needs can vary across different demographic groups is crucial in creating tailored physical activity programs. For example, our research shows that 1 in 10 women in Wales are looking for more people to be active with, as over 1 in 3 worry about leaving their home to take part in physical activity. Meanwhile, over 1 in 5 (21%) males are more likely to show a stronger interest in specific sports as opposed to general physical activities.
Activity providers also need to be aware of the time pressures people are facing. Results from the October 2023 wave of the activity survey showed that over 1 in 3 (32%) Welsh adults feel that they don’t have enough time to be physically active.
These factors present a challenge to physical activity providers who face a public with increasing pressures on their financial ability to be active as well as other time commitments taking precedence in their lives. As tough economic times look to continue into 2024, it is unlikely that these challenges are going to ease any time soon. However, what does remain is an appetite amongst the Welsh public to continue to be physically active, with over half of Welsh adults doing at least 3 days of physical activity per week as recently as October 2023. This is promising to see and, presented with a physical activity offering which is accessible, affordable and caters for a variety of well-being needs, including physical, mental and social. It is likely that Welsh adults will continue to do what physical activity they can, rather than giving up altogether.
How can Savanta help?
Savanta conducts a variety of tracking and ad-hoc studies related to physical activity attitudes and behaviors for a number of governing bodies including Sport Wales, Sport England and UK Active. Please get in touch if you would like to hear about how we can support you to monitor public attitudes towards activity, identify barriers to participation or provide insights to help develop strategies to increase opportunities to be physically active.