Physical activity patterns –
Adults in Northern Ireland
Population level surveys of physical
The first results from the 2011/12 Health Survey Northern
Ireland cover a range of health topics that are important to
the lives of people in Northern Ireland. The recommended
guidelines for adult physical activity at the start of the
data collection in April 2011 were 30 minutes of moderate
activity on at least 5 days a week. Using this definition:
• 35% of respondents aged 16 and over were meeting the
• males (40%) were more likely than females (31%) to
meet the recommendations
• the proportion of men and women meeting the
recommendations has decreased compared to the
2010/11 Survey; for men the levels have decreased from
44% to 40% and for women from 35% to 31%.
The proportion of respondents meeting the recommended
level of physical activity varied by age:
• 13% of those aged 75 and over met the recommendations
• 39% of adults aged 45-54 years
• 42% of adults aged 25-34 years.
The Northern Ireland Sport and Physical Activity Survey 2010
provides a picture of adult participation in sport and physical
activity across Northern Ireland. The survey assesses physical
activity levels in Northern Ireland across four life domains:
home, work, active travel and sport and recreation. It found:
• on average, adults spend 473 minutes per week on
activities that raise their breathing rate
• men spend 557 minutes and women 394 minutes per week
on activities that raise their breathing rate
• 173 minutes is spent on physical activities at home, the
most time of the four life domains
• 150 minutes is spent on activities at work
• 87 minutes is spent on sporting activities
• 63 minutes is spent on active travel.
Participation in sport
Respondents to the 2011/12 Continuous Household Survey
were presented with a list of 39 sports activities and asked
which, if any, they participated in during the previous 12
months. Results presented exclude ‘walking for recreation’
as previous surveys have not included this.
• A significantly higher proportion of males (59%) than
females (45%) participated in sport.
• Participation in sport declined with age.
• 71% of 16-24 year olds participated in sport.
• 63% of 35-44 year olds participated in sport.
• 23% of over 65s participated in sport.
• 44% of respondents living in the most deprived areas
participated in sport compared with 65% in the least.
Type of sports
• Swimming/diving was the most popular sport during
the 12 months prior to the survey, with 21% of people
• 15% of adults participated in keep fit/aerobics/yoga/
• 12% had participated in jogging.
• 11% had participated in cycling for recreation.
Frequency of participation
• 48% participated in some type of sport or physical
activity on at least one day a week.
• 5% participated in sport/physical activity on 5 or more
days a week.
• 52% of respondents reported that they do not normally
participate in sport on any days of the week.
The latest Travel Survey for Northern Ireland reports on the
type, length and time of journeys of children and adults
in Northern Ireland. 83% of the 6,196 respondents were
adults. In 2009-2011:
• the average walking trip was 0.9 miles and took
• the average cycling trip was 3.9 miles and took
• the average number of walking trips was 143 per year
• the average number of cycling trips was 6 per year.
The definition of sedentary behaviour used in the 2011/12
Health Survey Northern Ireland is ‘a person who has not
performed any activity of at least a moderate level, lasting
20 minutes, on at least one occasion in the last 7 days’.
Applying this definition*:
• 26% of respondents can be classed as sedentary
• 28% of females and 23% of males are sedentary
• the proportion of respondents classified as sedentary
increased with age
• 13% of 16-24 year olds are sedentary
• 61% of those aged 75 and over are classed as sedentary.
*Sedentary behaviour is defined in the 2011 CMO physical
activity guidelines as ‘a group of behaviours that occur
whilst sitting or lying down and that typically require very
low energy expenditure. Sedentary behaviour is a risk
factor for poor health independent of physical activity’.
1. Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety (2012). Health Survey Northern Ireland: First results from the 2011/12 survey. Department of
Health, Social Services & Public Safety: Belfast.
2. Donnelly, P. (2011). The Northern Ireland Adult Sport and Physical Activity Survey 2010. Belfast: Sport Northern Ireland.
3. Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (2013). Experience of sport and physical activity in Northern Ireland: Findings from the Continuous Household
Survey 2011/12. Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure: Belfast.
4. Department for Regional Development (2012). Travel Survey for Northern Ireland. Department for Regional Development: Belfast.
5. Department of Health (2011) Start Active, Stay Active – A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers.
Last updated July 2013
British Heart Foundation National Centre (BHFNC)
for Physical Activity and Health, Loughborough University
T: 01509 226421 F: 01509 226420
The British Heart Foundation is a registered charity in
England and Wales (225971) and Scotland (SC039426).