Prevalence of physical activity during leisure time in the European Union

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jul;33(7):1142-6. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200107000-00011.


Purpose: To estimate the prevalence of physical activity during leisure time in adults from the 15 member states of the European Union and the relationship with sociodemographic variables.

Methods: A representative sample, with approximately 1000 adults, aged 15 and upward, was selected from each member state to complete a questionnaire on attitudes to physical activity, body weight, and health by a face-to-face interview, summing a total of 15,239 subjects. The amount of leisure-time physical activity was quantified by assigning metabolic equivalents (METs) to each activity. Multiple linear regression models with MET-h.wk(-1) as the dependent variable were fitted.

Results: Northern European countries showed higher levels of physical activity than southern ones. The highest prevalence (91.9%) was found in Finland, and the lowest (40.7%) in Portugal. A higher percentage of men practiced any leisure-time physical activity and also showed higher mean of MET-h.wk(-1). In both genders, the multivariate models showed a significant trend to higher leisure time activity in participants with higher educational levels and in nonsmokers. Also, an inverse association between body mass index and leisure-time physical activity was found.

Conclusion: The prevalence of any physical activity during leisure time in the adult European population was similar to the U.S. estimates. Nevertheless, the amount of activity is low, and a wide disparity between countries exists. To our knowledge, this is the first study determining the prevalence and amount of leisure-time physical activity, which is the first step to define strategies to persuade populations to increase their physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • European Union / statistics & numerical data
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Prevalence
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data