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Physical activity: adults

Physical activity guidelines

In 2011, the Chief Medical Officers of each of the four UK countries agreed and introduced revised guidelines on physical activity. The main change in the adult recommendation was the removal of the stipulation that at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity must be carried out on at least five days per week. The new recommendation can be met by engaging in at least moderate activity for a minimum of 150 minutes a week or, alternatively, 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Additionally, muscle-strengthening activities should be carried out at least twice a week.  Where relevant, this page presents data on the proportion of adults meeting the new recommendation. Further information is provided in the 2012 Scottish Health Survey report.

Physical activity levels by age and gender

In 2015, 67% of men and 59% of women did a sufficient amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity to meet the physical activity guidelines. Chart 1 shows that activity levels are associated with age for both men and women: younger adults are generally more likely than those in older age groups to meet the physical activity guidelines.

Fewer people achieved the recommended two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities per week: 30% of men and 25% of women. Younger men and women were more likely to meet this recommendation than older people, as shown in Chart 2.

Source: Scottish Health Survey 

Physical activity levels by deprivation

Chart 3 shows the percentage of adults aged 16 years and over who met the physical activity guideline, by Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) quintile in 2015. SIMD is the Scottish Government's official measure of area based multiple deprivation. The chart shows that as area deprivation increases the proportion of men and women meeting the physical activity recommendations decreases.

Source: Scottish Health Survey

Physical activity levels by Health Board

Between 2012 and 2015 the percentage of adults conducting the recommended amount of physical activity was lowest in Ayrshire and Arran and Dumfries and Galloway (60%) and highest in Lothian Health Board (66%).

Source: Scottish Health Survey 

Physical activity levels over time

The change in physical activity guidelines for adults in 2011 complicates the assessment of trends over time: see Chart 4.  There was little change in the percentage of adults meeting the old physical activity guideline between 2008 and 2012 (average 38%). Between 2012 and 2015, adherence to the new guideline also remained stable (63%).

Source: Scottish Health Survey

Active commuting

The Scottish Household Survey asks respondents how they usually travel to work. Table 2 shows that only around 13% of respondents walk, with a further 2% cycling. About two-thirds of respondents usually drive or are passengers in a car/van. These patterns have been very stable over time.

Table 2: How adults usually travel to work, 2000-2015

 (Column percentages) 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2015
Walk 14 13 13 14 13 13 14 13 14
Cycle 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 2
Bus 13 12 13 12 12 11 10 10 11
Rail / underground 2 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Drive / passenger in car /van 67 68 67 67 66 67 67 67 66
Other 3 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3

Source: Scottish Household Survey

Note: All the figures in Table 2 relate to travel to work only, by adults aged 16+ years who are employed and do not work at home. 

Physical activity levels: progress towards national targets

Various national strategies have stated general and specific targets for increases in walking, cycling and physical activity levels in the Scottish population (see Physical activity: policy context).

The evidence from the Scottish Health Survey and Scottish Household Survey, presented above, suggests that physical activity levels of adults in Scotland have changed little in recent years. The national target that 50% of adults would meet the recommended levels (N.B. old recommendations) by 2022 has not been adjusted to reflect the new guidelines , but half way through the strategy period (2012) levels were still under 40%. Chart 4 shows little change in adult physical activity levels since 2012. The target that 10% of all journeys in Scotland would be taken by bike by 2020 may also be difficult to achieve, as rates of cycling to work have remained at around 2% since 2000.  

Source: Scottish Health Survey and Scottish Household Survey

Physical activity levels: Comparison with England

Adult physical activity data are only collected periodically in the Health Survey for England, hence the most recent available data for comparison are for 2012. In 2012 physical activity levels among adults aged 16+ years were slightly lower in England than in Scotland (Table 3). This was because of a lower proportion of women meeting the guidelines in England.

Table 3: Percentage of adults aged 16 years and over in Scotland and England achieving the new CMO recommended level of physical activity per week by gender, 2012 

  Scotland England
Men 67 67
Women 58 55
All adults  62 59

Sources: Scottish Health Survey and Health Survey for England


Please note: If you require the most up-to-date data available, please check the data sources directly as new data may have been published since these data pages were last updated. Although we endeavour to ensure that the data pages are kept up-to-date, there may be a time lag between new data being published and the relevant ScotPHO web pages being updated.

Page last updated: 14 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014