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Sport England Research - Are new habits forming during the crisis?

Posted: Wed, 15 Apr 2020 11:56

Sport England Research - Are new habits forming during the crisis?

Sport England's polling research, released today, on coronavirus lockdown exercise habits is interesting reading and presents interesting questions for the future writes Rory Palmer.

The research shows that two thirds of adults now believe exercise to be 'more important than ever'. It will be interesting to see how this figure changes in an extended lockdown and as life returns to some form of normality in the future.

67% of adults also believe exercise is helping with their mental health and wellbeing. Again, it will be interesting to track this measure overtime and whilst it is very welcome that a majority of people are recognising the connection between exercise and mental health, we have to be realistic that more people are actively considering their mental wellbeing during the crisis.

Sport England's survey also explores exercise habits during the lockdown. Predictably, walking is the most popular form of daily exercise (59% of adults saying they are walking for their daily activity) and 25% engaging with 'home fitness workouts'.

It is also shown that a good number of people are opting for cycling; the data shows 22% of those cycling are doing so with their children. A similar inter-generational pattern is shown in relation to the popular online home-based fitness workouts, with 37% of participants taking part with their children.

This data presents some interesting questions for policy-makers in public health, active travel and in the physical activity, exercise and sports communities.

1. Sport England's polling doesn't appear to gauge whether those now walking or cycling regularly did so before the lockdown. Understanding both quantitatively and qualitatively how peoples' exercise habits have changed and are changing will be key in identifying opportunities to more firmly embed some of this behaviour change.

I hope that Sport England or other bodies seek to build on this survey and the data published today by delving further, on a more qualitative basis, into how peoples' habits, opinions and understanding of exercise and physical activity might be changing.

2. If it is the case that some adults are walking and cycling more regularly and are appreciating the health benefits in a more prominent way - both physically and mentally - there is a clear and important opportunity here for active travel policy-makers. Both of these activities are more appealing at the moment due to the spell of nice weather but also because the roads are quieter. Particularly for those who don't usually cycle, it will be feel a more pleasant and safer pursuit in the current circumstances.

It will be interesting to see if people continue to build walking or cycling into their daily lives as society returns to normal, and whether this leads to stronger public support for new cycling infrastructure investment in our local communities. If it does, this could be a genuine game-changer for active travel.

Again, it will be interesting to explore further how people see the prospect of them doing more walking or cycling in the future and how their current patterns compare to before the lockdown restrictions, and questions should be asked particularly about what would help them shift towards more walking or cycling in their daily lives.

3. With over two-thirds of adults stating that they believe exercise is helping with their mental health and wellbeing, there is a real opportunity here to take social prescribing and Exercise on Prescription to the next level.

Taking this forward needs to draw on the new popularity of online at-home exercise programmes; this is particularly important in recognising that Sport England's data shows that daily exercise in the lockdown remains a particular challenge for those living alone and who might be socially isolated.

There's potentially a big opportunity here for the NHS iPrescribe Exercise app but it will require fairly prompt moves to secure the longterm benefits of these new trends.

As with the other areas of data captured by Sport England's survey, more detailed exploration into how people are using online at-home programmes is needed; as is more work on understanding the apparent shift in understanding the positive connection between physical exercise and mental wellbeing.

To conclude, today's Sport England survey data shows interesting findings on how people are engaging in exercise within the limits of current social distancing rules and suggests there's a possibly growing stronger appreciation of the importance of exercising. More detailed work is needed to understand how far peoples' behaviour has changed from their usual patterns, and to gauge what the likelihood is of new habits forming into a new normal for individuals and families.

The crucial question policy-makers need to be asking is what might prevent people from building more regular exercise or opting for more walking or cycling into their usual travel habits in the longterm. There's already busy and interesting debates taking place on how society and day-to-day life may change longterm because of the current crisis. Embedding practical measures to support higher levels of regular exercise uptake and securing a stronger appreciation of active travel must feature prominently in these debates.

Sport England's research, carried out by Savanta ComRes, can be read in full here, together with the full datasets.

Rory Palmer is one of our Advisory Board. A former MEP and previously Deputy City Mayor and Health & Wellbeing Chair at Leicester City Council

Tags: Featured, Legacy, Local Government, Policy, Sport, Sport and Development, Sport for development, development, sport england

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