Objectives: Physical activity is an established risk factor for chronic disease but very little is known about its temporal trends in England. Such information is crucial for planning public health interventions.
Methods: We explored temporal trends in occupational activity, walking, domestic activity, and sports using Health Survey for England data in 95,342 adults aged 16 and over. Data were collected annually in 1991-4, 1997-9, and 2003-04. Multivariate logistic regression and multiple linear regression models assessed trends in physical activity for dichotomous and continuous outcomes, respectively. Analyses were adjusted for age and social class.
Results: Physical activity levels at work declined over time but there was a consistent and significant upward trend in regular sports participation among all age groups. Changes in questions in 1997 and 1999 confounded trends in walking and heavy domestic activity and total physical activity. Between 1999 and 2004 (when physical activity questions remained unchanged), there were significant increases in average time spent in all activity types and the percentage of adults meeting the current physical activity recommendations. These short-term increases were more marked among adults aged 35 to 64.
Conclusion: The common perception that overall physical activity levels are declining may be over-simplistic as despite the decreases in occupational physical activity, there is a clear upward trend in sports participation. Changes in the measuring methodology over time preclude the presentation of a clear picture of the total temporal trends in physical activity in England.