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Team sports lead post-lockdown recovery in England’s physical activity levels

Football participation numbers have bounced back (IMAGE: Sport England)
Team sports are leading the slow recovery in physical activity levels in England. Data from Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adult Survey, covering the period from November 2020 to November 2021, shows that weekly physical activity levels are recovering slowly following the large drops in participation numbers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

In total, 61.4 per cent of the adult population in England were deemed physically active – undertaking more than 150 minutes of exercise each week – during the period. The figure is below the pre-pandemic activity levels, when 63.3 per cent of adults were deemed physically active (between November 2018 and November 2019, the last 12-month period before the pandemic hit).

Team sports participation numbers have bounced back close to pre-pandemic levels, however, following large drops during restrictions. Football saw the number of people playing regularly increase by 2 per cent across mid-July – mid-September 2021, while cricket (+0.3 per cent) and basketball (+0.3 per cent) also among those to have seen people returning to play. 

Meanwhile, running (a decrease of 863,000 in the number of people running regularly), cycling (decrease of 784,000 people) and swimming (decrease of 354,000 people) were among activities that lost significant numbers of regular participants. 

Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England CEO, said:  “Today’s Active Lives report shows how activity levels are starting to recover. That’s testament to the dedication of all of those who worked so hard to bring activities back safely when restrictions started to be eased.

“Though this report clearly sets out the many challenges that lie ahead in supporting people to play more sport and lead more active lives, the key investments and resources we were able to provide during the harshest of restrictions also played an important role in helping sports get back on their feet.

“That the data tells us that this initial recovery is not universal is not a surprise and that is exactly why our Uniting the Movement strategy focuses resources and funding disproportionally towards the people and places that need the most support to be active.”
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