New data from the Health Survey for England (HSE), carried out by NatCen and UCL, shows that 66% of men and 58% of women aged 19 or over are meeting national guidelines for aerobic physical activity. This amounts to 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, such as running, walking, swimming or cycling. Adults are also recommended to undertake muscle-strengthening activities such as climbing, aerobics or weight training on at least two days per week. Just 31% of men and 23% of women meet both recommendations. 13% of men and 19% of women are categorised as ‘inactive’, doing less than 30 minutes of activity per week.
It is disappointing to see that a significant gender disparity in activity levels still exists between men and women in every age group. However, it is encouraging that the proportion of women meeting the target for aerobic activity levels has increased by 3 percentage points since 2012, which has seen the gap shrink.
I am part of that 3% who were previously inactive and now regularly participate in sports and exercise.Up until about three years ago I’d never set foot in a gym, couldn’t run for one minute without stopping and got out of breath walking up the stairs. My motivation to get active came after breaking my leg in three places in 2014, requiring an operation, five months on crutches and intensive physiotherapy. As part of my recovery I was encouraged to start swimming and join a gym to help regain the strength in my leg, which was the catalyst I needed to kick-start my fitness journey. Since then I’ve never looked back and exercise has become an important part of my life.
Earlier this year I became an Ambassador for Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign in my home county of Essex, so I was particularly interested in the HSE data on women’s increased participation in sports. The aim of This Girl Can is to break down barriers and encourage women and girls of all ages, backgrounds, shapes, sizes and abilities to take part in exercise.
Sport England data shows that 75% of women want to be more active but fear of judgement about their appearance or ability is the primary barrier. This is in contrast to men who are more likely to over-estimate their sporting abilities! To overcome these fears, This Girl Can uses inclusive marketing and slogans to encourage participation and help women to motivate each other by sharing their stories and celebrating achievements, no matter how small. This Girl Can also promotes the diverse range of sports available, from archery to zumba, to prove that there really is an activity for everyone to enjoy. I’ve recently discovered boxing classes at my local trampoline park which are a much more fun (and exhausting) alternative to the gym!
Alongside increased funding to improve women’s participation through campaigns such as This Girl Can, it is also encouraging that there has been an increase in the profile of national women’s sports in recent years. With increased investment from the Football Association, football is now the fastest growing female sport in the UK, and a record four million viewers tuned into the England Lionesses’ Euro 2017 semi-final thanks to mainstream TV coverage. The England Women’s Cricket team have also achieved great success this year in winning the 2017 World Cup. Whilst national women’s teams still have a long way to go to achieve parity with their male counterparts in terms of publicity and investment, it seems we are moving in the right direction to level the playing field.
Hopefully these new female role models at both local and national level will inspire the next generation of girls to become more active, and stats from future HSE reports show the gender participation gap continuing to shrink!