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Scottish Health Survey - topic report: equality groups

Topic report in the Scottish Health Survey series providing breakdowns of key health behaviours and outcomes by gender, age, ethnic group, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

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7 Physical activity

Summary

  • Men participated more in sport and were more likely to meet the physical activity recommendations than women.
  • Physical activity and sport participation declined with age.
  • Pakistani respondents had the lowest levels of sport and physical activity of all ethnic groups.
  • Muslims had low levels of sport and physical activity whilst those with no religious faith were the most likely to meet the physical activity recommendations.
  • Disabled people were less likely to participate in physical activity and sport than those without a disability.
  • People who identified as other sexual orientation were least likely to meet the physical activity recommendations.

7.1 Physical activity guidelines

Over the period to which this report relates (2008-2011), the physical activity recommendations for adults were to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week (i.e. on at least five), which can be accumulated in shorter bouts of as little as 10 minutes. More detailed recommendations were published jointly in July 2011 by the UK's four Chief Medical Officers.1 The new UK guidelines for adults are tailored to specific age groups across the lifecourse2. Changes have been made to the SHeS questionnaire from 2012 to help monitor adherence to some of these new and more detailed targets, but as this report relates to the period before the new recommendations were published, it uses the previous measure of 30 minutes on 5 or more days per week.

7.2 Measures of physical activity

The adult physical activity module is based on the Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey, a major study of physical activity among the adult population in England conducted in 1990.3 The module examined:

  • The time spent being active
  • The intensity of the activities undertaken, and
  • The frequency with which activities are performed.

Four main types of physical activity were asked about:

  • Home-based activities (housework, gardening, building work and DIY)
  • Walking
  • Sports and exercise, and
  • Activity at work.

For the first three categories, participants were asked to report any activities lasting at least 10 minutes and to say on how many days in the past four weeks they had taken part in such activities. For walking, they were also asked on how many days they had taken more than one walk of at least 10 minutes. Where they had taken more than one walk, the total time spent walking for that day was calculated as twice the average reported walk time.

Those in full or part-time employment were also asked about activity at work. They were asked to rate how physically active they were in their job (options were: very physically active, fairly physically active, not very physically active and not at all physically active). Occupational activity was counted as 20 days in the last 4 weeks for full-time workers and 12 days for part-time workers.

Each of the activities mentioned were classified according to their intensity level. The four categories of 'intensity' of physical activity were:

  • Vigorous
  • Moderate
  • Light, and
  • Inactive.

Home-based activities were classified as either 'moderate' or 'light' depending on their nature. Participants were given examples of types of housework, gardening, building work and DIY which were described as either 'heavy' or 'light'. All cases of 'heavy' home-based activity were classified as being of 'moderate' physical intensity. Light gardening, building work and DIY were all classified as 'light' physical intensity. Due to its very low intensity, light housework was not included in the calculations of physical activity in this report.4

For walking, participants were asked to assess their usual walking pace as 'slow', 'steady average', 'fairly brisk' or 'fast - at least 4mph'. Walks of 10 minutes or more at a brisk or fast pace were classified as being of 'moderate' intensity. Walks at slow or steady average pace were classified as 'light'.

The intensity levels of different sports and exercises were determined according to a combination of the nature of the activity and the participant's assessment of the amount of effort it involved. For example, all instances of playing squash or running/jogging were counted as 'vigorous' intensity. However, other activities, like swimming or cycling, were counted as 'vigorous' only if the participant reported that the effort involved was enough to make them 'out of breath or sweaty'; if not, they were classified as 'moderate' intensity. Similarly, other activities, like dancing, counted as 'moderate' if they made the participant out of breath or sweaty, but 'light' if not.5

Activities at work were classified using a combination of (a) the participant's assessment of how active they are in their job (described above), and (b) the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code assigned to their job type. For example, if participants' jobs were among a short list of particularly strenuous occupations (including, for example, miners and construction workers) and they described themselves as 'very physically active' at work, then their jobs were classified as involving 'vigorous' activity. Those who described their jobs as 'very physically active' but whose jobs were not among the list of strenuous occupations were classified as 'moderately active' at work, as were those who considered themselves 'fairly physically active' but whose occupations were classed as either strenuous (see above) or involving heavy or moderate work (for example, plasterers or refuse collectors).6

7.3 Physical activity by gender

Men were significantly more likely to meet the physical activity recommendations than women (45% compared with 33%) and to participate in sport (53% of men did so in the previous four weeks compared to 45% of women).

7.4 Physical activity by age

The likelihood of adhering to the physical activity recommendations fell steadily after the age of 34. Over half of respondents aged 16-24 and 25-34 met the recommendations, compared to only 20% of 65-74 year olds and 8% of those aged 75 and over. Recent research confirmed that being active after 75 years old can significantly prolong life.7

A similar pattern was seen when looking at sport participation whereby 71% of 16-24 year olds did sport in the previous 4 weeks compared to only 19% of those aged 75+.

Figure 7A: Proportion meeting physical activity recommendations, by age, 2008-2011 combined

Figure 7A: Proportion meeting physical activity recommendations, by age, 2008-2011 combined

7.5 Physical activity by ethnic group

Pakistani respondents were the least likely to achieve the recommended physical activity levels (27% did so compared to the national average of 38%) and were also the least likely to participate in sport (30% compared to 49% on average). This finding corresponds with other research that found that, in Britain, Pakistani individuals8 and south Asian ethnic groups generally,9 are less likely to be sufficiently active. Recent studies highlight the importance of gender differences of physical activity within ethnic groups. Pakistani respondents were found to be less active overall, but also with a gender difference most prominent in the younger age groups.10 Findings show that ethnic variation in physical activity and sedentary behaviour in the UK are present as early as eleven years of age.11

Figure 7B: Participation in sport, by ethnic group, 2008-2011 combined

Figure 7B: Participation in sport, by ethnic group, 2008-2011 combined

No other ethnic groups were significantly different from the national average in relation to physical activity or sport participation.

7.6 Physical activity by religion

Respondents who said they belonged to no religion were most likely to meet the physical activity recommendations. 40% did so, which was significantly higher than the national average of 38%. Muslims (29%) and members of the Church of Scotland (37%) had significantly lower proportions meeting the recommendations than the average.

In terms of sport participation, Muslims were also the least likely to participate in sport (39% did so in the previous four weeks). Roman Catholics also had significantly lower sport participation than the average (46% compared to 49%). Respondents from Other Christian groups had significantly higher sport participation than average (52%).

Figure 7C: Proportion meeting physical activity recommendations, by religion, 2008-2011 combined

Figure 7C: Proportion meeting physical activity recommendations, by religion, 2008-2011 combined

7.7 Physical activity by disability

There was a strong relationship between disability and physical activity as respondents with a long-term limiting condition were substantially less likely to meet the physical activity recommendations. Only 26% of respondents with a limiting long-term condition met the physical activity recommendations compared to 41% with a non-limiting condition and 44% of those without a condition. Furthermore, only a third (36%) participated in sport compared to more than half (54%) of those without a condition.

7.8 Physical activity by sexual orientation

Respondents who identified as having an 'other' sexual orientation were significantly less likely to meet the physical activity recommendations than the national average (29% did so compared to a national average of 38%). There was a similar pattern in relation to sport participation where 39% of respondents who identified as other sexual orientation and those who preferred not to answer the sexual orientation question did sport in the previous 4 weeks compared to a national average of 49%. Bisexual, lesbian and gay respondents were not significantly different from heterosexuals in relation to sport and physical activity.

Contact

Email: Julie Ramsay

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