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With lockdowns placing huge restrictions on many sporting activities like going to the gym or playing a round of golf, according to new research from Mintel, Brits are increasingly embracing the great outdoors as the number of hikers/ramblers has increased from 16% in 2018 to 23% in 2020.

Those aged 55-64 (30%) are most likely to be donning their walking boots, with participation rates remaining stable since 2018. Not to be deterred from the odd blister or two, Britain’s young are hot on the trail as a quarter (24%) of 16-24s are ramblers, up from 16% in 2018. But it’s not just hiking participation that has climbed; the number of joggers has increased from 18% in 2018 to 22% in 2020.

From two feet to two wheels, cycling for fitness has grown from 16% to 20% in three years alone. And while MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) have traditionally loved their racing bikes, Mintel research reveals that it is young men who are driving the current cycling craze as 40% of men aged 16-24 are cyclists, compared to just 27% of men aged 25-44. 

Finally, on a more relaxing note, yoga/pilates participation has increased from 10% in 2018 to 15% in 2020. While still a female dominated activity, yoga is now attracting 13% of men aged 25-44.

Lauren Ryan, Leisure and Travel Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Outdoor sports such as hiking, jogging and cycling are some of the activities which have been permitted through both lockdowns. The balance between physical and mental wellness that consumers now seek is reflected in the growing popularity of ‘mindful’ exercise such as yoga, and outdoor sports such as hiking that allow participants to feel connected to their environment. More recently, outdoor leisure activities have benefitted as they are viewed as safer in terms of COVID-19 infection risk compared to indoor activities. The increase in walking and rambling has been helped, in part, by successive years of largely favourable weather and highlights the significant potential for growth available to sports that utilise natural outdoor settings. Now in ‘Lockdown 2.0’, consumers will likely bring with them the lessons of the first lockdown and many will be determined to fulfil fitness goals that fell by the wayside the first time around. The fact that, this time around, walkers can be accompanied with one person from another household is also likely to encourage more outside activities.”

Testing times encourage middle-aged fitness enthusiasts

Sports participation rates are now broadly static, with around two thirds (68%) of Brits taking part* at least annually. While sports activity is largely skewed towards younger age groups, participation among 55-64 year olds continues to rise and has increased steadily from 43% in 2018 to 59% in 2020. Similarly, those aged 45-54 also saw a significant increase, up from 53% to 63% over the same three years.

In total, 80% of all online adults took some sort of exercise during the COVID-19 restrictions of the spring and summer**. Young people’s exercise habits were strongly biased towards in-home activity: three quarters (74%) of 16-24s exercised at home compared to less than half (46%) of those aged 55-64. But it seems the virus has proved more challenging for the young in terms of sports participation. While over half (54%) of those aged 55-64 said they found it easy to stay active during the COVID-19 restrictions, this figure dropped successively through the age groups to a low of just over a third (36%) of 16-24s.

Lauren Ryan, Leisure and Travel Analyst at Mintel, said:

“The absence of organised sport and closure of participation venues appears to have affected younger players more than older ones – whose playing habits may be more informal and independent. Younger participants tried to replicate gym-based activity in the home or turned to online workouts to maintain fitness. Older people saw less disruption to their most popular sports, particularly hiking/rambling and cycling, and so had less need to seek out substitutes.”

*1,983 UK internet users were asked if they had taken part in swimming, jogging, weight training/gym, cycling, yoga/pilates, aerobic/fitness classes, hiking/rambling, fishing, climbing, martial arts and watersports and a variety of team sports.

**Question asked in August 2020.