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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Old fitter than the young

Research commissioned by the BBC reveals that the average young person in Britain spends less time in an average day engaged in physical activity than the average pensioner.

On the average day, Britons aged between 8 and 19 spent 1 hour and 15 minutes doing any form of physical activity, while Britons aged over 65 tended to be active for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Weighing scales
Lack of exercise can lead to obesity
The gap is large enough to reflect a real difference in lifestyle between younger and older people.

The finding is based on time diaries kept by 5000 people covering a range of physical activities.

They include sports and exercise; walking dogs; physically active housework (such as vacuuming, moving furniture and many forms of DIY); productive exercise (such as turning soil in an allotment by hand or picking berries); and travel on foot or bicycle.

Big gap

Young people are more active on days when they are not in school, but even on these days, teenage boys are only as active as older men, and teenage girls are still less active than older women.

Teenagers don't do enough PE at school
On any given day, nearly 20% of Britons do no physical activity that lasts longer than 5 consecutive minutes.

While only 12% of people aged over 65 are this inactive, 22% of people aged between 8 and 35 did no exercise lasting at least 10 minutes in their day.

Though boys are more physically active than girls, after the age of 20, women tend to be more physically active than men.

At all ages, men spend more time than women playing sports, but women spend more time than men walking, cycling and doing physically active housework as adults.

Sports nation?

Diarists were asked if they had participated in any of 43 sports in the last four weeks.

Over half of Britons said they played some sports on at least a monthly basis.

Nevertheless, approaching half of the sample - 42% - indicated that they had not participated in any sport, not even keep fit exercises, over the last four weeks.

People who say they almost always feel rushed are less likely to participate in sports during a month than people who only occasionally feel rushed.

Yet people who seldom or never feel time pressured are even less likely than those who always feel rushed to participate in sports.

Internet effect

More curiously, people who have access to the internet at home are more likely to participate in sports than those who do not have internet access at home.

The association holds across the age groups, and is particularly large for people in the older working age groups.

The diary data only show the time which people are active, but not the intensity of exercise or the number of calories people burn while doing exercise.

Even so, young people naturally have more potential energy to spend than pensioners.

People's lifestyle choices in youth can significantly influence their chances of health in older age.

Young people who lead a sedentary lifestyle face greater risks of obesity and health problems in later life.

This study is based on the National Survey of Time Use conducted by the Office for National Statistics which was released earlier this year. It used a random national sample of around 5,000 households. All people aged 8 and older in these households were asked to keep a diary of their activities over two randomly selected days, one week day and one weekend day.

See also:

30 May 01 | Health
30 Aug 02 | Health
20 May 01 | Health
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