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A million people in England have stopped exercising due to COVID

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The number of adults who undertake less than 30 minutes of exercise a week increased by 1 million / Shutterstock/Liderina

The pandemic has had an “unprecedented” impact on physical activity levels in England, with 1 million more adults becoming physically inactive in the 12 months to May 2021.

The figure comes from the latest edition of Sport England’s annual Active Lives study – just published – which covers the period from mid-May 2020 to mid-May 2021 – when national and tiered restrictions and lockdowns disrupted sport and physical activity.

During the period, the number of active adults – those who engage in at least 150 minutes of exercise a week – fell by 700,000 (-1.9 per cent).

Meanwhile, the number of inactive adults – those who undertake less than 30 minutes of exercise a week – increased by 1 million (+2 per cent).

The study points to a “clear correlation” between falls in activity levels during the pandemic and restrictions, with activity levels dropping as sport and physical activity settings were closed.

Activity levels throughout the period were consistently lower than pre-pandemic, but the drops were less pronounced as restrictions eased and activity levels started to rise.

Overall, the number of people taking part in sport or physical activity is down by 4.1 per cent (1.6m), when compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 (and across the same time period).

Data from the study also suggests that existing inequalities have also been widened during the pandemic, with some groups being hit much harder than others.

This is the case for women, young people aged 16-34, the over 75s, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, as well as those from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds.

Those living in deprived areas and also those in urban areas also found it harder to be active.

Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England CEO, said: “This latest Active Lives research paints a stark but unsurprising picture of activity levels throughout England.

“The decline, which is right across the board, ties in with when coronavirus-related restrictions were introduced and access, opportunity and the capability to exercise were all massively curtailed.

“What is more concerning is that certain groups – those who have historically found it more difficult to access activity – were disproportionately impacted. And we know that once habits are broken, they are often harder to restart.

“However, now we understand the scale and nature of the challenge Sport England’s absolute focus is using our resources, advocacy and network to target communities – places and people – where raising activity levels will have the greatest effect.”

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