5 things we’ve leant from Sport England’s Active Lives

Last week Sport England released the second set of results from their Active Lives survey - the new, improved and comprehensive way of measuring sport and activity, that replaced Active People. Whilst we can't yet make any significant comparisons - either against the first release or previous methodology - there are some very interesting insights that are becoming clear. Sport England have rightly focused their reports on key issues such as volunteering, but there is much more to understand as we look to build an Active World.

1. We're quite an active population - one of the more startling facts revealed by Active Lives is that 6 in 10 adults are actually physically active, as defined by the Chief Medical Officer. These are people who do at least 150 minutes of activity per week - of at least moderate intensity in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Active People presented a far more limited, and dire, picture of physical activity, but the inclusion of other forms of activity, such as walking for leisure, has given a far more rounded and positive outlook. More than a quarter of adults are inactive, so there is a huge amount of work to be done, but a large proportion of the population are already doing enough activity for it to have a positive impact on their health.​​

2. There are persistent activity inequalities - one common feature of Active People and Active Lives is the significant difference in activity levels across various demographics. There are disparities between people of different socio-economic groups, genders, physical impairments and ages. As well as measuring and recognising these differences, it is very positive that more work is being done to understand the causes and to address them to reduce the gaps between men and women for example. Activity level cannot be a function of age or wealth, and by understanding the barriers and the activities and experiences that appeal to different people we can address the problems.

3. The best routes to an active life are the simplest – for the first time Active Lives is really shining a light on the importance of "non-sporting" activities, and how the path to a heathier lifestyle can literally start with a few steps. The most popular activities are walking (for leisure or travel) followed by sport, fitness activities and cycling (including commuting). Running has been growing strongly for some time and Active Lives confirms it is the most practised sporting activity by some distance (more than cycling and swimming). It is abundantly clear that in 2017 the most popular activities, and those that still have the most potential to impact the lives or more people and should be actively promoted, are those that fit into people's busy lives, are enjoyable, social and immediately accessible, and require little infrastructure or training.

4. Sport and activity doesn't need a team to be social - as one scans the list of activities it takes some time to find a team sport. Even collectively only 7.6% of adults claim to play them, and less than a third of the number of people that run (15.4%) play football (5.1%). This trend towards individual sports and away from team sports was apparent before, but is starker now. With the exception of exercise and fitness classes the same is true of venue-based activities like racket sports. But the relative lack of popularity of team sports doesn't mean people necessarily want to play alone. The growth of parkrun - which brings an activity that often people do alone or in small groups into a social, community setting - is clear evidence of this.

5. Innovative and informal activities dominate traditional 'sport' - another thing we've known for some time, but that Active Lives has clearly reinforced is the popularity of less formal sport. Previously running was captured under the broader definition of the sport of athletics - now the distinction is recorded and the huge disparity in participation evident with 15.4% of adults running and just 0.6% taking part in track and field. This is not just a matter of research methodology and definition though, and whether evidenced or not, it is clear that people are overwhelmingly opting for the superior experiences and innovations   that traditional sports struggle to provide. People cycle for leisure not competition and enjoy fitness classes and new 'sports' like Crossfit and HIIT. More sports, like swimming, would benefit hugely if they appreciated what these popular, flexible and fun activities offer.

The learnings for Limelight Sports amongst this wealth of insight?
  • Create great, simple experiences that present the fewest barriers to taking part.
  • Develop digital and physical communities that engage with activity and provide additional excitement and support.
  • Focus on people, understanding their lives, and developing activities and campaigns that meet their needs.
As well as helping more people to become active, we want to help more organisations, more brands, realise the incredible power and importance of sport and physical activity. And by investing in campaigns and experiences they can not only engage with audiences in a part of their lives they feel passionately about, but be part of encouraging more people to live active, healthy lives.
Rick Jenner // Director of Strategy and Insight