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Are we Fit Brits?

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Franziska Marcheselli, Senior Researcher .
Tags: Health Survey for England, Scottish Health Survey, health, lifestyles

Today is National Fitness Day, created to celebrate physical activity nationwide and make the 9th September the most active day in the year. We all know that regular physical exercise can bring many benefits; from reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke to improving mental wellbeing and cognitive function.

In 2011, the Chief Medical Officers of each of the four UK countries introduced revised guidelines on the minimum amount of physical activity adults aged 19 – 64 years should do each week:

  • 150 minutes of moderately intensive activity, like brisk walking or cycling
  • or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, like running or sports such as football
  • or a combination of the two
  • perform muscle strengthening activities on at least two days per week, like using weights and carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries
  • to minimise the amount of time spent sitting down for extended periods.

Are we meeting these guidelines? 

According to the most recent Scottish Health Survey, published in 2014, 71% of men and 58% of women met the guideline on moderate or vigorous physical activity (MVPA). In England, the situation is fairly similar. The Health Survey for England (HSE) found that in 2012 67% of men and 55% of women aged 16 and over met these guidelines (please note that the adult guidelines are aimed at those aged 19 or over but in both the Scottish and English Health Surveys the results refer to those aged 16 and over).Meeting Activity Guidelines By Scot Eng Sex

In Scotland, across both sexes younger adults were more likely to meet the guidelines than those in older age groups. In England, this pattern was the same for men – the proportion meeting the aerobic activity guidelines decreased as age increased – but for women the proportion meeting them rose to a peak among those aged 35-44 (66%) and then decreased as age increased (13% met the guidelines in those aged 75 or over).

Scot Eng Meeting Exercise Recommendations Age Sex

In England and Scotland, adherence to the additional guideline of improving muscle strength on at least two days a week was lower, at around a third of total adults. Again, around a third of adults met both the muscle strengthening and MVPA guidelines. In both countries, perhaps unsurprisingly, men were more likely than women to meet the muscle strengthening guideline.

As for the amount of time spent sitting down, 31% of men and 29% of women in England averaged six or more hours of total sedentary time per weekday. Although the total time being sedentary has decreased since 2008, being sedentary is now being viewed as a risk factor in its own right.

How many of us are actually aware of these guidelines?

In Scotland just 4% of adults aged 19 or above were aware of the government’s recommendations to carry out at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Most adults in fact overestimated the amount of moderate activity advised, but one in five (19%) underestimated what is recommended. Knowledge of these guidelines did not vary significantly between men and women but older people were most likely to underestimate the recommended levels.

So, did you know what the current guidelines for physical activity are? Perhaps a greater awareness of the guidelines would increase these figures, along with greater emphasis on performing muscle strengthening activities and limiting sitting down for extended periods of time in order to have higher compliance across the board. With obesity figures on the rise and lifestyles becoming increasingly more sedentary, the question remains: can and will the UK become fitter?

So remember to make the most of this National Fitness Day and think about getting off one stop earlier on a journey you make today!

Note: the next Scottish Health Survey will be published on 22nd September 2015. Follow @NatCen and @ScotCen on Twitter for the latest news.

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