By Paul Williams
New research suggests that lockdown has worsened the gap between active and inactive people in Wales, with those from more deprived backgrounds suffering the most.
A survey carried out by Savanta ComRes on behalf of Sport Wales has found that although the overall levels of physical activity have not shifted significantly – 34% of Welsh adults say that they are doing more at this time than before the COVID-19 restrictions, while 33% say that they are doing less – there are noticeable variations within certain demographic groups.
Among adults from higher socio-economic backgrounds, 39% say they are doing more activity and 32% are doing less, meaning that there has been a +7 percentage point increase in activity. However, for adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds, 29% are doing more and 33% are doing less, meaning that there has been a -4 percentage point decrease among this group.
The survey results suggest that the divide is even more glaring among children. While 9% of adults overall report that their children are doing no physical activity or exercise on a typical day at the moment, for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds the figure is 14%.
Overall, 26% of parents said that their children are doing more activity than usual during lockdown, while 35% report that their children are doing less. However, only 23% of parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds say that their children are more active than usual, compared to 36% who say they are doing less.
Interestingly, the usual male-female divide in activity appears to have been reversed during lockdown. A greater proportion of women (36%) than men (32%) said that in the past week they have done more exercise or physical activity compared to a typical week before COVID-19 restrictions.
Women are more likely than men to have ‘walked for leisure’, done ‘online home exercise classes’ or enjoyed ‘informal active play/games in the house or garden’, while men are more likely to have ‘cycled for leisure’ than women. Women are more likely to have done physical activity on 1-4 days in the past week, while men are more likely to have done exercise on five or more days.
The survey also revealed a net rise in physical activity levels among younger adults aged 16-34 (+15 percentage points), but net decreases among those aged 35-54 (-2 percentage points) and 55+ (-5 percentage points).
Responding to the survey findings, Sport Wales acting chief executive Brian Davies said: “Whilst it is heartening to see the essential importance Government has placed on exercise during this pandemic, it unfortunately appears that many of the inequalities which already existed in sports participation have been intensified during lockdown.
“As part of the collective work that is being undertaken towards the safe re-introduction of sport at all levels in Wales, we must ensure that we reflect this insight in our efforts to make sport and physical activity as accessible as possible and target our resources to reach those communities and groups who are statistically less active.
“For children in particular, I think these survey results emphasise the importance of school sport and our sports club structure to young people in Wales.
“For the moment, while lockdown continues, I’d really like to flag up the #BeActiveWales campaign which offers a wide range of activity ideas and challenges to help all ages get active, as well as home workouts that suit all abilities and backgrounds.
“We’ve also made available a number of specialist resources aimed at improving children’s physical and sport skills. They can be downloaded for free from our website. Please visit the #BeActiveWales section on the Sport Wales website to find out more, or search for the hashtag on social media.”
Savanta ComRes surveyed 1,007 Welsh adults between 8 and 12 May. The data has been weighted to be demographically representative of Welsh adults 16+ by gender, age and the estimated households with children under 16.
Here are some more of the findings…
How important is exercise right now?
Sixty two per cent of adults in Wales feel that it is more important than ever to be active during the coronavirus outbreak. Two in every three adults (67%) say that they are exercising to help manage their physical health, while 62% are staying active to help look after their mental health.
What activities are people doing?
These are the most popular forms of exercise during lockdown:
Walking for leisure: 59%
Home workout/activity: 30%
Informal active play/games: 14%
Walking for travel: 12%
Cycling for leisure: 10%
Something else: 9%
Cycling for travel: 3%
How much are people exercising?
The survey found that although 22% of adults haven’t done any physical activity of 30 minutes or more during the past week, 59% say that they have done a form of activity on three or more days, while a third of adults have done an activity on five or more days.
✔️ ✔️ ❌
2 out of 3 adults in Wales feel it’s more important than ever to be active during the #coronavirus outbreak.
Here’s how the nation has been exercising during #lockdown…
— sportwales (@sportwales) May 26, 2020
How does this compare to what they usually do?
Those who have done activity in the past week generally report doing more activity than in a typical week before the COVID-19 restrictions. Of those who are staying active, 72% are running or jogging more than usual, 67% are cycling for leisure more than usual, and 62% are doing more home fitness or exercise classes (either their own session or following a video) than they were before the crisis.
Exercising alone or with other people?
In most cases, people have been exercising on their own. Eighty per cent of people who had been out for a jog in the last week did so alone, while 75% of those who did a home workout did so on their own, while 64% of cyclists have been riding solo.
Walking for leisure is the activity that is most likely to have been done with another adult (45% of people who walked for leisure did so with other adults), while informal active play/games is the activity that is most likely to have been done with children – 49% who did this activity did so with children.
Finding new ways of being active
Almost half of adults (49%) have found new ways to be active since the outbreak. When asked which new experiences, habits or activities that they would like to continue once the restrictions are lifted, the top five answers given were:
1. Walking 22%
2. Exercise/workouts/fitness 6%
3. Jogging/Running 6%
4. Cycling 4%
5. Gardening 4%
New enthusiasm for volunteering
There are currently around 10 per cent of people in Wales who are volunteers in sport*, but when everything eventually gets back to normal we could find that we have three times as many volunteers willing to get involved!
A whopping 30% of adults surveyed say that they are likely to volunteer in the next 12 months to support sport and physical activity, with those aged 16-34 are the most keen.
With the population of Wales just over the three million mark, this suggests that around a million people are potentially considering volunteering in sport!
*This statistic is taken from the 2016-17 National Survey for Wales.