Almost 12 million adults in England were 'inactive' during lockdown.
Numbers of people running outdoors was up by 731,000, but indoor and treadmill running was down.
Online and home workouts and cycling all enjoyed big increases.
England's coronavirus lockdown caused an ‘unprecedented’ fall in activity levels during spring, according to new research.
The Sport England Active Lives survey found that almost 12 million adults in England were ‘inactive’ between mid-March and mid-May, a rise of 7.4 per cent, compared to before the pandemic. The survey defines inactive people as those who said they did less than half an hour of activity a week.
The number of people meeting the official recommended amount of 150 minutes of physical activity a week fell by 7.1 per cent, which translates to just over three million fewer active people.
The closure of gyms and the nationwide ‘stay home’ order from mid-March meant millions of adults were unable or unwilling to exercise in their usual way. But the nature of the lockdown led to varied results when it came to different types of physical activity.
The survey reports a mixed picture for running – numbers running outdoors increased by 731,000, a 1.5 per cent rise, but this was countered by fewer people using indoor treadmills due to gyms being closed.
Cycling enjoyed a lockdown boom, however, with participation increasing by 1.2 million, thanks to good weather, relatively empty roads and bike shops remaining open.
Not surprisingly, the statistics show a surge in online exercise classes, such as those most famously led by ‘the nation’s PE teacher’, Joe Wicks. Similarly, home fitness training, which includes bodyweight exercises like press-ups and pull-ups, showed a rise of more than 550,000.
However, the closure of pools hit swimming hard, which showed a drop of 2.8 million people against the same period in 2019.
Reacting to the report, Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth said: ‘Though the early months of lockdown brought unprecedented disruption to our lives and had a huge impact on our overall engagement in sport and physical activity, it is also positive to see how many people turned to new activities like cycling, fitness at home and running.’
The report also found that the drop-off in activity levels was smaller among women than men, explained by women finding it easier to adapt to online and home workouts, with men being more likely to take part in team and racket sports, both of which were banned during lockdown.
Sport England also noted that lockdown had a bigger health impact on ethnic minorities: ‘Drops in activity levels were larger amongst those from Asian [excluding Chinese], black and other ethnic backgrounds – indicating they’ve found it harder to find new ways to stay active,’ it said.
The survey highlights the importance of keeping gyms open, and letting sports carry on as much as possible in a safe way, to ensure that activity targets are met.
The Guardian revealed in June that almost half of Britain’s public leisure centres and one in five of the country’s swimming pools risk being closed permanently before Christmas because of the pandemic.
Even though lockdown restrictions have been eased, a third of leisure centres have still not reopened because they are struggling financially.
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