Figures reveal drop in physical activity during Covid pandemic

Exhausted sports woman

Physical activity levels of people dropped in Suffolk during the Covid lockdowns - Credit: Getty Images

The physical activity levels of people in Suffolk fell during the coronavirus pandemic, latest figures have revealed. 

The decline across the county between May 2020 to May 2021 highlighted the negative impact of the pandemic on physical health in Suffolk. 

A number of factors, such as the closure of leisure facilities during lockdowns and more people working from home, have contributed to the decrease, health officials said. 

The latest Active Lives data, released by Sport England, showed Suffolk has broadly matched the national trend of decreasing physical activity levels in adults - particularly among groups affected by health inequalities or living in areas of deprivation. 

Across Suffolk, the percentage of adults aged 16+ now completing 150 minutes or more of physical activity per week fell by 2.8% to 60.4%. 

This is slightly below the national average of 60.9% following a decrease of 1.9% across the country. 

Pure Gym has now opened in Stowmarket. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

The closure of gyms and leisure facilities was a major factor, it has been suggested - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Ipswich saw the biggest drop of 10.4% in activity levels between May 2020 and May 2021, meaning only 50.3% of people were meeting the government's physical activity recommendations. 

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Levels also dropped in East Suffolk (down 4.4% to 60.4%), Babergh, (down 2.9% to 63.4%) and Mid Suffolk (down 1.4% to 63%). 

West Suffolk was the only area in the county to show an increase in physical activity levels, rising 0.2% to 64.6%. 

Gareth Davies, director at Active Suffolk, said: “Active Suffolk’s vision is improved health and wellbeing across Suffolk by inspiring everyone to be more active.

"Therefore, while we are always disappointed to see a reduction in physical activity levels, we recognise that the mandatory closure of leisure facilities and a large number of the population being asked to work from home, are significant contributory factors to decreasing physical activity levels.”

Olympic Swimming pool underwater background.

Life in the (sort of) fast lane... - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Active Lives data suggests that those living in the most deprived areas or who are living with long term conditions or disability have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Active Suffolk said it has facilitated the distribution of almost £150,000 of Sport England tackling inequalities funding in the past year to allow over 40 local organisations to begin addressing these issues.

Among those organisations to receive funding is Avenues East - which secured more than £4,000 to allow them to purchase equipment to deliver in house activity sessions and upskill volunteers to offer sustainable activities to their clients affected by disability.

Suffolk County Council also launched its 'Keep Moving Suffolk' campaign in the county nine days after the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. 

Mr Davies added: “Now is the time to begin to improve health and wellbeing by increasing movement and reducing inactivity.

"We are proud of the work we have done in the last year to support local clubs, charities, and organisations to secure funding and we hope to see the impact of this work transpire as the money is used to tackle inequalities.

"Right now, we encourage Suffolk residents and communities to start to increase their physical activity levels and aim to undertake at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

"This doesn’t have to be a trip to the gym or participation in a sporting events. There are many ways to undertake physical activity and we encourage people to consider how they might build this into their daily routine.”


Keep Moving Suffolk is aiming to help children keep active. - Credit: Keep Moving Suffolk

News of the decrease in activity levels comes after calls were made for the government to increase funding for public health. 

The Health Foundation said councils across the UK had received £3.3bn to run these services this year - £1bn less than in 2015-16, once inflation was accounted for.

In Suffolk, the per capita cut to public health grant funding from 2015/16 to 2020/21 was £13 per person per year, while in Essex the cut was £14. 

The cut threatened the government's levelling-up agenda to spread wealth and opportunity more fairly, the Health Foundation added. 

But the government said it was "absolutely committed" to the policy.

A spokesman for the government added the newly-launched Office for Health Improvement and Disparities would play a crucial role in levelling up.

Details on future funding is expected to be announced later in the autumn.