Just one in 20 English adults do NHS recommended exercise each week, study finds


Just one in 20 adults in England get their recommended amount of exercise, a study suggests.

The NHS says people should do two-and-a-half hours of moderate-intensity physical exercise per week, such as brisk walking, cycling and pushing a lawn mower.

Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities, like carrying heavy shopping bags, lifting weights and heavy gardening, at least two days a week.

But a study of a quarter of a million Britons found a ‘startlingly small’ five per cent are hitting these minimum thresholds.

It comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Britons were on track to become the fattest nation in Europe in the next decade.

Researchers from the University of Essex studied the exercise habits of a quarter of a million people in England.

They found that while two-thirds did enough aerobic exercise, between five and 29 per cent did enough strength exercise, depending on how the latter is defined.

Essex University researchers, who studied a quarter of a million Britons, found a ‘startlingly small’ five per cent could be doing the recommended levels of aerobic and strengthening workouts

The graph shows the proportion of 19 to 65-year-olds in England meeting three different definitions of guidelines recommending twice-weekly strengthening activity

The graph shows the proportion of 19 to 65-year-olds in England meeting three different definitions of guidelines recommending twice-weekly strengthening activity 

The graph shows the rate of English 19 to 65-year-olds meeting both aerobic activity guidelines plus three interpretations of strengthening activity

 The graph shows the rate of English 19 to 65-year-olds meeting both aerobic activity guidelines plus three interpretations of strengthening activity

The exact number of people hitting aerobic and strengthening exercise targets was unclear before now.

Researchers examined data on 249,614 Britons aged 18 to 65 who responded to the Active Lives Survey.

It quizzes a representative group of people across England on their exercise routine twice a year.

HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD I DO? 

Adults aged 19 to 64 are advised to exercise daily.

The NHS says Britons should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity a week. 

The advice is the same for disabled adults, pregnant women and new mothers. 

Exercising just one or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Moderate activity includes brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike, dancing, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking and rollerblading.

Vigorous exercise includes running, swimming, riding a bike fast or on hills, walking up stairs, as well as sports such as football, rugby, netball and hockey.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE, show two-thirds of adults get their heart racing through aerobic exercise for the recommended two-and-a-half hours a week. 

The rate is slightly higher for men (69 per cent) than women (65 per cent).

However, the researchers said this figure could be over-inflated because people tend to overestimate when self-reporting activity levels.

They also calculated the rate of people who met aerobic exercise recommendations and also did at least 10 minutes of strengthening exercises twice a week, based on three different definitions of strengthening exercises.

When using a Health Survey for England (HSE) definition — which includes 34 types of exercise from golf and cricket to weight training — 29 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women met strengthening exercise requirements.

The researchers said there is ‘limited evidence’ that many of these activities make muscles stronger.

Under a separate classification of strengthening workouts — that includes 10 exercises that there is evidence of health benefits for — the rate fell to 16 per cent of men and nine per cent of women. Running, football and weightlifting are included under this definition.  

But the figures fell to 7.3 per cent of men and 4.1 per cent of women under the most stringent guidelines, which only classify five exercises as a strengthening activity — weight training, circuit training, bodyweight exercise, yoga and weightlifting. 

Overall, the proportion of adults doing enough aerobic and strengthening activities could be as high as one in three but it may be as low as one in 20, if the strictest definition is applied. 

They said previous studies, which have found three times more people meet workout recommendations, ‘grossly overestimated’ the number of adults who work on strengthening by including too many activities that are ‘clearly not designed to or capable of promoting strength development’.

The researchers said these figures are comparable to the rates in the US.

The team also found that women, adults aged 50 to 65-year-old, those with a limiting disability, individuals living in deprived areas and people with fewer academic qualifications were less likely to exercise. 

The researchers said those from poorer parts of the country may not be able to access gyms, while those with disabilities may struggle to perform resistance training. 

Gyms may also be ‘less welcoming’ to women and older adults, they said. 

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