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Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity: Public Participation, Barriers and Attitudes




5.1 More men than women exercise several times a week (39% of men compared with 32% of women) and fewer men never exercise (18% of men compared with 25% of women). However, the proportions of men and women who exercise once or twice a week (27% for both men and women), once or twice a month (7% for both) and less often than once a month (8% of men and 9% women) are almost identical.

5.2 Figure 15 below illustrates how exercise levels for men and women are linked with age. In the youngest age group (16-24 year olds), men's participation is substantially higher with 58% exercising several times a week compared with only 41% of women. However, within the 25-34 age group, there is a big drop in the number of men exercising several times a week and participation levels are similar to that of women.

5.3 Women's participation drops fairly slowly but steadily with age, whereas the proportion of men exercising several times a week appears to peak and trough before falling off dramatically in the 75 plus age group. Indeed, within this oldest age group, more women than men are exercising several times a week.

Figure 15: Frequency of participation in sport, exercise and physical activity by gender (% of respondents)
How often do you take part in sport, exercise or any physical activities these days?

Figure 15: Frequency of participation in sport, exercise and physical activity by gender (% of respondents)

Base: Men: 16-24 (70), 25-34 (104), 35-44 (167), 45-59 (247), 60-74 (209), 75+ (90)
Women: 16-24 (109), 25-34 (153), 35-44 (227), 45-59 (294), 60-74 (245), 75+ (162)

Reasons for exercising

5.4 Similar numbers of men and women are exercising in order to keep fit or to keep in shape/toned. However, it appears that men are more likely to give other - arguably more positive - reasons in addition:

  • 69% of men say they enjoy it, compared with 59% of women
  • 37% of men enjoy the social side, compared with 27% of women
  • 31% of men enjoy the competition, compared with just 8% of women
  • 20% of men want to improve their performance, compared with 8% of women

5.5 The only reasons cited by more women than men were 'to lose weight' (40% of women compared with 27% of men) and 'to accompany children' (17% of women compared with 11% of men).

5.6 Overall, 73% of respondents say one of their main reasons for exercising is that they enjoy some aspect (either they simply 'enjoy it' or enjoy the social side/meeting people or enjoy the competition). More men have enjoyment as a main reason: 78% of men compared with 67% of women. This does not mean that a third of women don't enjoy it, but it is not one of their main reasons for taking part.

Reasons for not exercising

5.7 Men are more likely than women to cite health reasons for not exercising (53% compared with 46%). This is partly because men were much more likely to say that they stopped/reduced their activity because they 'got too old' (34% of men compared with 22% of women). This may perhaps reflect the type of exercise that men were involved in (football, for example) which may be harder to continue as age increases and may also be more likely to result in injuries which limit future participation.

5.8 Men were slightly less likely to say that time pressures prevent them exercising (45% compared with 48% of women). While men indicated that they dropped out because they 'got too old', women were more likely to mention family responsibilities (33% of women gave this as a reason for stopping/reducing activity levels compared with 20% of men).

5.9 Very similar proportions of men and women indicate that motivational reasons or the availability/accessibility of facilities are barriers.

Views on exercising more often

5.10 There were no notable differences in the proportions of men and women who want to exercise more.

Encouraging people to exercise more

5.11 There were very few differences between men and women on this point. Seven per cent of women wanted single sex facilities/sessions - this compares with 1% of men. Women were also more likely to want to do something at home (21% compared with 13%).

Attitudes towards sport and physical activity

5.12 Women were more likely to agree that "when I hear the word sport I turn off" (29% agreed compared with 17% of men). More men say they enjoy the competitive side of sport (69% compared with 42% of women). There were no other notable differences in attitude.