Whilst the importance of exercise is often cast in the spotlight, it seems that many Brits are reluctant to lace up their trainers as they fear exposing their low-fitness levels. Indeed, new research from Mintel has found that one in five (22%) Brits say they don’t feel fit enough to play sport or exercise with other people. 

Further showing that many are hesitant to feel the burn, a quarter (26%) of Brits say they find it hard to motivate themselves to play sport or get more exercise. Despite this, over a third (38%) of consumers say they would like to be more active to improve their health, rising to over half (54%) of those who say they don’t feel fit enough to exercise with other people. Today in Britain, 36% of consumers have not played or participated in sport in the past 12 months, rising to over half (61%) of those over 65 and 52% aged 55-64. 

However, it seems that it is UK women who are finding it harder to get into the ‘no pain no gain’ mindset. Indeed, 41% of women have not played sport in the past year, with a third (33%) agreeing that they find it hard to motivate themselves. Despite this, 44% of women say they would like to be more active to improve their health.

David Walmsley, Senior Leisure Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Not feeling fit enough to play with others could be one expression of a more general lack of physical confidence that stems from unfamiliarity with sport more widely – it is significant that this attitude is most common among older people, who are least likely to take part in sport either individually or with others. However, the fact that it is also more common among people who play sport with other family members suggests promoting this type of play could be a useful means of breaking down these wider barriers. Playing with family offers a supportive setting in which people who have not played in many years can regain their confidence and enthusiasm for sport.”

Indeed, 21% of Brits who have played sport with their family in the past year say they don’t feel fit enough to play sport or exercise with other people. However, Mintel’s research shows that the strongest advocators of the importance of exercise are UK parents. Whilst over a third (38%) of parents say they try to encourage their children to play sport to help them develop a healthy lifestyle, 55% of this group agree playing sport or exercising regularly means you don’t have to worry too much about what you eat, compared to a national mean of 10%. Furthermore, three in five (59%) of this group say that playing sport socially is an enjoyable way to look after their health compared to an average of 30%. 

In addition, British parents who encourage their children in sport are the most likely to believe in the importance of group exercise. As many as 62% agree that playing organised sport makes it easier to stick to a fitness or weight-loss programme than going to the gym or exercising alone, whilst an average of just 15% of Brits agree the same. 

“High levels of recognition from parents of the health value of sport is positive for children’s participation and could be a way of keeping children’s weight in check without having to constantly police their diets. Creating more opportunities for parents to play or exercise alongside children – either in the same session or the same setting – could therefore appeal to those keen to set a good example as a means of encouraging the sport for health habits they want to instil in their kids.” David continues.

Furthermore, whilst 43% of Brits play two or more sports, the nation’s favourite form of exercise is swimming, with three in 10 (29%) having swum in the past year. Cycling comes in second, with 19% having done this and jogging third (17%). When it comes to trying new sports, 44% of Brits are interested in trying individual sports, 25% outdoor or alternative sports and 23% racquet sports. Although swimming comes top again, with 17% interested in trying this in the future, it’s yoga and Pilates that appears second on the list with 12% of Brits interested in participating in this in the future, rising to 19% of women.

However, despite recent successes of UK female sport teams, women seem to be more reluctant to take up stereotypical male sports in the future, with just 4% of women who haven’t played sport in the past year are interested in trying golf in the future, 2% football and 1% cricket. In comparison, 10% of men who haven’t played sport in the last year would be interested in playing golf, 8% football and 7% cricket.

“While these sports have done much to promote female participation in recent years, the fact remains that very few women are willing to consider taking up golf, football or cricket – whether that be for reasons of perception, opportunity, time pressures or simple lack of interest. Attracting women’s interest is far less of an issue for individual or keep-fit sports that already have a large established female participation base, such as swimming, aerobics, yoga and Pilates. The question these sports face is of how best to reach potential participants and encourage them to act on their interest and take part.” David concludes.

Finally, when it comes to locating the sportiest areas, it seems that those living in the South East and East Anglia are the most reluctant to feel the burn, as two in five (40%) living in this area say they’ve not participated in any sport in the past 12 months. Inner and Greater London however hold the sportiest residents as just 31% say they’ve not done any exercise in the last year.

Mintel’s Sports Participation – UK – 2014 report is available to purchase priced £1,750.

Press review copies of the report and interviews with David Walmsley are available on request from the press office.

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