The number of adults in England meeting physical activity guidelines decreased by over 3 million during the initial Covid-19 lockdown (Sport England, 2020). Even during the summer of 2020 – when restrictions in England had been somewhat eased – 100,000 fewer children were meeting physical activity guidelines compared to summer 2019 (Sport England, 2021).
This paints a very bleak picture, given that a significant portion of the population were already inactive before the pandemic (24.6% of adults ‘inactive’; 29% children ‘less active’, Sport England 2018/19).
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the physical activity levels of adults from lower socioeconomic groups and those with disabilities and long-term health conditions (Sport England, 2020). For children too, stubborn inequalities persist. Children from less affluent families far less likely to be meeting physical activity guidelines than their more affluent peers (Sport England, 2021).
Surveys were conducted in Shildon and the Deerness Valley in County Durham (Durham County Council, Active Places Covid Surveys, 2020). These are both priority areas for physical activity intervention with lower than national average life expectancy and high rates of illness and disability (Active Places). In these areas, the pandemic has increased physical activity for some (29% Shildon, 23% Deerness Valley) and decreased physical activity for others (36% Shildon, 35% Deerness Valley). Similarly, research by Teesside University and Tees Valley Sport found that 42% of respondents from County Durham had done more exercise than usual during the pandemic, whilst 31% had done less. County Durham Sport will continue to work closely with communities to tackle these inequalities in physical activity engagement.
There are still reasons to be hopeful.
The pandemic has raised the profile of physical activity in the minds of local people. More than half of respondents surveyed in Durham County Council’s Active Places Covid surveys felt that physical activity was more important since Covid-19 (67% Shildon, 58% Deerness Valley). In the North East, 98.5% of people surveyed had noticed that the government prioritised physical activity as a valid reason to leave your home during lockdown (Teesside University & Tees Valley Sport, 2020).
There has also been an increase in the popularity of outdoor exercise, both nationally and locally.
By applying the lessons learned during the pandemic, we can emerge a happier, healthier county.
For more information, please contact Rachel Mowbray (Insight Coordinator) firstname.lastname@example.org