Grey wave of walkers spearhead record activity levels among England’s over-55s

<span>Active Lives research showed moderate exercise from 55-74-year-olds increased by just over 5% from 2016 to 2023</span><span>Photograph: SolStock/Getty Images</span>
Active Lives research showed moderate exercise from 55-74-year-olds increased by just over 5% from 2016 to 2023Photograph: SolStock/Getty Images

A silver surge in walking has led to record levels of physical activity among the over-55s in England, the latest edition of the authoritative Active Lives adult survey has revealed.

Figures covering November 2022 to 2023, showed that 62.3% of 55-74-year-olds did at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, up from 57% in 2016 when the survey was first commissioned. More striking still was the rise in activity in the over-75s, with 42.8% considered active, up from 33.4% seven years ago.

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Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of Sport England who commission the Active Lives survey, said that the rise in active elders had been key in helping general levels of activity in 2023 recover to pre-pandemic levels.

“There are now two million more active people in England since 2016 – two million more people that are reaping the benefits of an active life”, Hollingsworth said. “It’s great to see that older adults are leading the way. This group have traditionally faced many barriers from taking part in sport but – like all of us – have so much to gain from physical activity.”

Analysis by Sport England found that an increase in walking for leisure was behind the rising figures. Just under 60% of 55-74s said they were regular walkers, up from just over 53% in 2016. Equally walking for leisure amongst the 75-plus was up from 43% to 49% over the period, while other forms of activity declined.

Research by the charity Age Concern has found that motivation and greater information were the key to increasing activity amongst older people, and it could be that a greater understanding of the health benefits of walking has cut through. Equally, older people appear to have kept up their pandemic habits, while walking for leisure amongst other cohorts has fallen back from a peak in 2020-21.

Across all age groups activity levels were broadly flat year on year with 63.4% of all adults active, compared to 63.1% in 2022. Levels of inactivity were also stable at 25.7% compared to 25.8%. Disparities were more visible when seen through the prism of class, ethnicity and geography, however. Black and Asian (excluding Chinese) people remain less likely to exercise than white people, and they are they only ethnic groups for whom activity has fallen since 2016. Equally the most affluent are some 20% more likely to be active than the least (72% to 52%). Finally, discrepancies by place were also substantial. The most active area of the country was the south-west, with 68% of respondents hitting the 150 minute target. In the West Midlands that figure is 60% with the gap having grown by 2% over the past seven years.