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Physical Activity


Physical inactivity carries risks of chronic illness and disability and is linked with poor mental health. It disproportionately affects those from lower socio-economic groups as well as women and those in older age groups and therefore contributes to health inequalities. Some 58,100 people in Reading do not reach the recommended weekly level of physical activity, of whom 34,000 (59%) are women and more than 8,000 (14%) are likely to be aged 65 or older. 

What do we know?

Physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality accounting for 6% of deaths globally. People who do have a physically active lifestyle have a 20-35% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke compared to those who have a sedentary lifestyle (WHO, 2011). As well as reducing the number of cases of chronic conditions, regular physical activity reduces the number of years spent living with a disability or chronic health condition (HSCIC, 2016; Murray et al, 2013). 

Regular physical activity is also associated with a greater sense of wellbeing and lower rates of depression and anxiety and there is some evidence that it can have a protective effect against cognitive decline in later life (Aked et al, 2008).

Facts, Figures, Trends

The Active People's Survey carries out telephone interviews with 165,000 people throughout the year (from October to September). Interviewees are randomly selected and calls are made at different times of the day to ensure a representative sample of the population is used. Interviews include questions about how often people take part in sport and active recreation and what kinds of activity they take part in. The data are used to help understand trends in participation in sport and physical activity and, importantly, are used to publish Public Health Outcome Framework measures showing the proportion of adults in each local authority area who are physically active and inactive.

Figure 1: Percentage of Physically Active Adults in Reading 2012-2014

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Figure 1

Source: Public Health Outcome Framework indicator 2.13i

Figure 2: Percentage of Physically Inactive Adults in Reading 2012-2014

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Figure 2

Source: Public Health Outcome Framework indicator 2.13ii

While the percentage of adults in Reading considered active (doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week) (54.7%), is slightly lower than the England average of 57%, the percentage considered 'inactive' (doing less than 30 minutes of moderate activity per week) (25.5%) is also lower than the national average of 27% (Figures 1 and 2). 

Further breakdown by the number of minutes spent doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity  each week, indicates that higher percentages of Reading's population than average were taking part in physical activity, but not reaching the recommended threshold of 150 minutes per week (nearly 20% were doing between 30 and 149 minutes of exercise per week, compared to averages of around 15% for both England and the South East). Of those who were meeting the threshold in Reading, a higher percentage were doing between 150 and 599 minutes of exercise per week than the average in England and the South East (63% of active people in Reading, compared to 55% in England and the South East), and a lower percentage were doing more than 600 minutes per week (37% of active people, compared to 45% in England and the South East). 

Figure 3: Percentage of the population by minutes of physical activity per week

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Figure 3

Source: Active People Survey

Expressing these as numbers of people rather than a percentage of the population helps to give a sense of the extent of the risks from physical inactivity in the local area. While the largest number of people in the population are meeting the threshold (more than 70,000), some 32,700 do no physical activity at all, while 25,400 people don't reach the recommended level. 

Figure 4: Number of adults in Reading by activity category

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Figure 4

Source: Active People Survey

Analysing these data by demographic factors suggests that women are more likely than men to be inactive or insufficiently active, accounting for 34,000 of those who do not do  enough physical activity (figure 5). The small number of people in each age group who took part in the survey from Reading makes it impossible to analyse local data by age group, however, trends in the data for all England suggest that levels of physical activity decrease with age (figure 6). Similarly, although the numbers in Reading are too small to analyse, National data suggest that those from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to be active than those from higher socio-economic groups. 

Figure 5: Number of adults in Reading by activity category by gender

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Figure 5

Source: Active People Survey

Figure 6: Percentage of adults in England by activity category by age group

Figure 6
Figure 6

Source: Active People Survey

The Chief Medical Officer's UK Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that all children aged 5-18 years participate in at least 60 minutes and up to several hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day (NHS Choices, 2016). In 2015 the Youth Sport Trust reported findings from the first National PE, School Sport and Physical Activity Survey. The survey was the first to collect data on PE and sports in schools since 2010, albeit with a different methodology, and has been designed to address a lack of up-to-date information and national intelligence on provision, children's activity levels and emerging needs. Data are not available by Local Authority area, but National data has been used to identify some trends in physical activity in children and young people. Key findings include: 

  • 97% of primary schools and 85% of secondary schools said that they encourage physical activity as part of the school day.
  • 65% of schools said that they consult with pupils about the provision of sport in their schools.
  • The average number of minutes spent taking part in PE in a typical week was 102 minutes for Key Stage 1 pupils and 114 minutes for Key Stage 2 pupils.
  • On average, schools had links with 5 community or other sports clubs. Lower than the average 9 links reported in a similar 2009/10 survey. 

Public Health England's 2014 report 'Everybody Active, Every Day' estimated that lack of physical activity has led to an additional burden of £7.4 billion a year on health and social care services. Estimates based on the economic cost of risk factors for chronic disease suggests that there was a direct cost of £0.9 billion to the NHS in 2006-07, and an average of more than £6 million to each PCT area in 2009-10 (PHE, 2014, Scarborough et al, 2011, BHF, 2013). 

National and Local Strategies

In 2011 the four Chief Medical Officers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland jointly published guidelines recommending levels of physical activity and highlighting risks of sedentary behaviour for all age groups. The report recommends the following for adults:

Guidelines published by the Chief Medical Officer in 2011 recommend the following for adults:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity OR 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week (or a mixture); 
  • Strength exercises like lifting weights, push-ups or sit-ups, or yoga on at least two days a week.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published advice to Local Authorities and local Health and Wellbeing Boards about encouraging people to be physically active. NICE advise consideration of: the implications for meeting public health responsibilities for reducing health inequalities; the burden of cost to social care services; the effects of lost productivity on sickness absence and the local economy; and the opportunity to encourage more physically active travel and reduce traffic flow and air quality. The recommendations include the following: 

  • Ensure local commissioning strategies support physical activity, including those related to leisure, transport, housing, urban and rural development and local business.
  • Encourage walking and cycling by ensuring there is a network of paths for walking and cycling locally, reducing road danger and the perception of danger, and ensuring other policies across organisations support walking and cycling. 
  • Ensure that leisure facilities are easy to reach and use, are safe and suit a range of ages, abilities and cultural norms. 
  • Provide green spaces and play areas that stimulate children and safely challenge them and consider playground design in schools. 
  • Introduce multi-component physical activity programmes involving schools, families and communities. 
  • Design new developments to encourage physical activity. 
  • Encourage stair use by providing clear signage and stairwells that are well lit and decorated. 

 (NICE, 2013). 

What is this telling us?

Physical inactivity carries risks of chronic illness, disability and poor mental health and disproportionately affects those from lower socio-economic groups as well as women and those in older age groups. Some 58,100 people in Reading do not reach the recommended weekly level of physical activity, of whom 34,000 (59%) are women. Based on national trends, around 45% of those aged 65 and older are likely to do no physical activity. In 2011 there were 17,832 people aged over 65 in Reading, so we might estimate that there are more than 8,000 older people in Reading who do no physical activity at all.  Local Authorities can influence behaviour by ensuring that local commissioning and infrastructure supports and encourages physical activity, particularly in schools. 

This section links to the following sections for the JSNA: 

Cardiovascular Disease
Mental Health


Aked, J, Marks, N, Cordon, C, and Thompson, S., 2008. Five Ways to Wellbeing.  New Economics Foundation (NEF). (Accessed 14th June 2016).

British Heart Foundation National Centre, 2013. Economic Costs of Physical Inactivity. (Accessed 14th June 2016).

Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (2011). Start Active, Stay Active: A report on physical activity by the four home counties' Chief Medical Officers.

Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), 2016. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet. England 2016. HSCIC.

Murray et al, 2013. UK Health Performance: Findings of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. The Lancet, 381: 997-1020.

Natcen, 2013. Health Survey for England, 2012. HSCIC.

National Institute on Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2013. Physical Activity: NICE Advice (LGB3). (Accessed 14th June 2016).

NHS Choices. Physical activity guidelines for children and young people. (Accessed 14th June 2016).

Public Health England (PHE), 2014. Everybody Active, Every Day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity. PHE, London. (Accessed 14th June 2016).

Scarborough, P, Bhatnagar, P, Wrikramasinghe, KK, Allender, S, Foster, C and Rayner, M., 2011.  The economic burden of ill health due to diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol and obesity in the UK: an update to 2006-07 NHS costs. Journal of Public Health, 33, 4, 527-535.

World Health Organisation, 2011. Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. (Accessed 14th June 2016). 



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