By Simon O'Hare
Eight out of 10 people do not do enough exercise to stay healthy, a major new report has found.
People from poorer households and with lower education levels are the least likely to be sufficiently active but the majority of the adult population does considerably below the recommended levels of physical activity, according to the study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Things improve somewhat when the weather improves, the study found, as more people take up exercise regimes in summer compared to winter.
Nevertheless the overall picture is not an encouraging one, with the authors of the report finding "very low" levels of participation in the most common activities.
Almost 80 per cent of people did not take part in moderate exercise at least 12 times over a four-week period, the researchers discovered.
Of those who were physically able to walk, just over eight per cent had not even walked for five minutes continuously at any point in the previous four weeks.
Almost half (46 per cent) of the respondents had not walked for leisure for 30 minutes continuously, 88 per cent had not swam and 90 per cent had not been to a gym in the previous four weeks.
People with a degree had just a 12 per cent chance of being inactive, but those with no qualifications were three times as likely to not exercise.
Carol Propper, professor of economics at Bristol's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, said the findings "suggest that financial as well as cultural barriers need to be overcome to reduce the prevalence of physical inactivity".
She added that knowing which groups of people tend to be more inactive is useful for creating "cost-effective policy interventions" given that "physical inactivity is the most important modifiable health behaviour for chronic disease".
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum and honorary chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, described the statistics as "woeful" but said "no one should be surprised" by them.
He said: "They represent a betrayal by successive governments to deliver what the Blair administration pledged to do in 2003 when bidding for the London Olympics.
"The bid pledged that two million adults, let alone millions of children, would be inspired be to be active in a commitment to grassroots sports as an Olympic legacy."
Mr Fry said that what happened in practice was "huge sums of money funded a few hundred elite sportsmen in their quest for medals in London and they did us proud".
He continued: "For the rest of the population, comparatively little was spent to get it up and running.
"This failure has left the majority as uninspired to be active as 10 years ago."
NHS recommendations suggest people should do moderate exercise for at least 2.5 hours every week and this can include activities such as cycling, fast walking, hiking or basketball.
People are also advised to do muscle-strengthening activities on major muscle groups - legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms - at least twice a week.
The ESRC study was led by University of Bristol researchers who examined data from the Active People Surveys (APS).
A range of factors are covered in the APS, including local access to sports facilities, the weather and individuals' socio-economic status.