Physical activity and sport

I’ve been looking belatedly at the Scottish Health Survey 2010, published six months ago. In the report of the 2008 survey, physical activity is broken down into four categories:

  • heavy housework
  • manual labour, gardening and DIY
  • walking, and
  • sport and exercise.

Housework is consistently the most important category; specific engagement in sport and exercise decline rapidly as people get older. In the 2010 report, figures for housework, domestic activity and walking are not given, but there is a breakdown of sports and exercise – including some activities that have little to do with sport, such as cycling and dancing. The tables tell us that participation in sport is heavily biased towards younger males, and that within the category of sporting activity, competitive sports scarcely feature as contributing to exercise.

The report states, rightly, that “there is abundant evidence that regular activity is related to a reduced incidence of chronic conditions of particular concern in Scotland, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.” However, the report also claims that “sports and exercise are important elements of any physical activity strategy, and major events such as the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games are considered valuable ways of promoting physical activity in the population.” There is no good evidence to support that contention. Athletics, and indeed competitive sport in general, make very little contribution to the physical activity of the population. If we want people to engage more in physical activity, we ought to be promoting walking, gardening and cycling.

Additional note, 20th January 2019:  An article in New Scientist (edition of 19.1.2019) explains that calorie consumption has a surprisingly limited association with exercise.  As obesity is only weakly related to physical activity, physical activity is only weakly related to sport, and elite sport is only weakly related to participation in sport, it’s unsurprising that obesity has no visible relationship to major sporting events.

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