Key facts and figures

Physical activity can help people to prevent and manage over 20 chronic health conditions (Department of Health: Start active, stay active). The benefits of physical activity vary across ages and include improvements to physical and mental development and functioning. (Department of Health: Start active, stay active: infographics on physical activity).

Physical inactivity costs the NHS in the UK around £1 billion per year (The King's Fund: Making the case for public health interventions and Scarborough et al. 2011). Including costs to wider society, this rises to around £7.4 billion a year (Public Health England: Everybody active, every day: an evidence based approach to physical activity).

Current practice

In 2015, 34% of men over 16 and 42% of women over 16 reported that they did not meet UK guidelines on physical activity, and the number of people meeting the recommended levels decreased with age (NHS Digital: Health Survey for England – 2016). In 2015, only 23% of boys and 20% of girls aged 5 to 15, and in 2012 only 10% of boys and 9% of girls aged 2 to 4 met the UK Chief Medical Officer's guidelines on physical activity for their age group (NHS Digital: Health Survey for England, 2016: children's health; NHS Digital: Health Survey for England 2015: children's physical activity). For children aged 5 to 15, figures exclude physical activity done during school lessons. When this is included, 24% of boys and 18% of girls who had attended school in the past week met the UK Chief Medical Officers' guidelines on physical activity for their age group. For both reports, data was collected from parental report for children aged 2 to 12. For 13 to 15 year olds, data was self-reported.

The environment can influence people's ability to be active (Foster and Hillsdon 2004). The design and layout of towns and cities can enable and encourage walking and cycling, and using public transport may also mean people build physical activity into their daily lives (Beavis and Moodie 2014).

For people with limited mobility, the environment can make it particularly difficult to be active. For example, they may not have easy access to public transport, or may find it difficult to cross roads if the crossings are not accessible.


The government's Sporting Future sets out a strategy for a healthy nation based on 5 outcomes, including physical and mental wellbeing. The government's Cycling and walking investment strategy aims to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey. Objectives for these policies include:

  • increasing the proportion of the population meeting the physical activity guidelines

  • decreasing the proportion doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week

  • increasing cycling and walking activity

  • decreasing fatalities and serious injuries in cyclists.

Supporting people of all ages and abilities to be more physically active can help local authorities meet their public health responsibilities. Specifically, it will affect indicators identified in the Public Health Outcomes Framework 2016 to 2019 and the NHS Outcomes Framework 2016 to 2017.