Read the headlines and you’d believe we’re a nation of technology-addicted, lounge lizards. The truth though is that more than 60% of us are active – and we’re engaged in a diverse range of sports and fitness activities.
Almost 28 million of us are classed as being active by Sport England, meaning that – despite what we often read – 62% of over-16s meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week. It does though mean more than a quarter of the population are inactive, missing out on a range of health benefits such as reduced risks of dementia, depression and diabetes, and improved mental wellbeing.
Sport England’s Lisa O’Keefe says: “People often reach 150 minutes of weekly activity through a combination of things, of which the most frequent include gym and fitness, running, swimming, cycling, team sports and walking.
“We know maintaining an exercise habit can be tough and that, for a significant number of people, it can feel almost impossible to start.
“Most of us are aware of the importance of being active but the reality is fitting exercise into busy lives and making it stick can sometimes feel like a chore. Gyms and sports clubs can seem expensive or intimidating, and it can be hard to start when everyone around you looks so fit and you’ve not been active for years. Experiencing any of these barriers is completely normal.
“The good news is that when it comes to being active, it all counts. Beyond raising your heart rate, there is no right or wrong way to get active. My advice for anyone thinking of getting into sport and exercise is to give some thought to what sort of activities they have found fun in the past, and what sort of environments feel the most comfortable – whether that be outside, in the gym, as part of a team or with friends.”
Kent is especially well placed when it comes to networks of centres, clubs, groups and volunteers, as Kent Sports’ Elise Rendall explains: “The county offers an amazing range of opportunities and activities available for people of all ages and abilities. Being active is good for your body, mind and health. Whether you’re looking to try a new individual or team sport, are interested in getting active to benefit your health and wellbeing, to meet new people or take part with the family, there are lots of options that can fit in with your lifestyle.”
As always, the previously inactive should seek advice from a medical or fitness professional first.
Who’s doing what?
Deciphering the complex, generic way in which lists of the country’s most popular pursuits are compiled is a bit of a workout in itself, so we looked across the research to find 10 of the sports and fitness activities we pursue on a regular basis, most of which offer local clubs and options.
You don’t need to join a gym, need no expensive equipment and nor must you don the latest fitness labels. Walking for 30 minutes or more a day is a great way to improve overall health, particularly increased heart and lung fitness, a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and stronger bones. Joining a walking group is a great way to ensure exercise is also sociable.
Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into a daily routine because it’s a form of transport – it saves you money, gets you fit and helps the environment. It’s low-impact so easier on joints than running or other higher-impact activities. You could cycle to work a few days a week, or do a couple of shorter rides during the week with a longer ride at the weekend.
Played competitively or just for fun, football keeps you fit and brings you the health benefits of other aerobic activities as well as some strengthening work. It’s one of the country’s most enduringly popular sports with all ages – and the women’s game goes from strength to strength. It can be played in amateur or professional teams or casually in the park.
Primarily played by older people, bowls has numerous benefits both on physical and social levels. Not only does it improve fitness, coordination and the maintenance of key cognitive skills, it’s great for building confidence and self-esteem, enhancing mental wellbeing and fostering feelings of community and support.
Some 850,000 over-16s play badminton once a year and 300,000 – of all ages – pick-up a racquet on a casual basis annually. Great for improving agility and reflexes, it’s inexpensive and highly sociable with several health benefits. If you fancy having a go but need some company, leagues run by local clubs are a great way to buddy-up.
For the uninitiated, gyms can be scary places full of sweat-dripping, Lycra-clad bodies pounding treadmills, grunting over the weights bench or performing perfectly honed moves. Don’t let that deter you – pick the right one with the right staff and philosophy and they can be fun, supportive and highly sociable. The golden rule is not to be afraid to try different things on route to finding an activity you’ll actually look forward to doing.
Exercise can take myriad forms from walking to the current wave of exercise classes like Orange Theory (orangetheoryfitness.com) that provide a high intensity workout in a group setting and in which you see your efforts displayed on a screen via the wearing of heart rate monitors. If this sounds a little excessive, then both yoga and Pilates, with their various blends of stretching, movement and relaxation, are consistently popular. Or how about dance… a great form of exercise known to get those happy hormones jumping?
There are few better all-round activities than swimming. It can be enjoyed by anyone of any age, it’s cheap and non-weight bearing so kind to joints – and it’s excellent for those using exercise as an aid to recovery from accident, injury or illness. If you’ve never learned to swim properly, most leisure centres offer adult lessons.
In a time strapped world, golf is another sport that’s had to adapt as participation levels see a steady decline. England Golf is leading the way with schemes such as #WhyIGolf (a women and girls’ golf week) and Get Into Golf, which aims to quash stereotypes of middle-aged men in plaid trousers and reposition it as something for everyone of all ages – male or female, fit or unfit, style icon or casual dresser.
Images: Sport England