Women's fitness levels declining compared to men, study finds

Young sporty woman with smart watch tying shoelaces
Women are reporting their physical fitness levels have worsened over the past year. (Getty Images)

Women are lagging behind when it comes to fitness levels compared to men as gender inequality continues to impact access to exercise, a new report has revealed.

According to Nuffield Health’s fourth annual Healthier Nation Index, women are reporting that their physical fitness has gotten worse over the past year - despite figures showing that Britons are moving 18 minutes more per week than in 2022.

Among those surveyed, 31% of women said their physical fitness has improved compared to 33% who said it has worsened. In contrast, men reported their fitness levels have gotten better over the past year, with 38% reporting improvement against 26% who say it has worsened.

It comes after research commissioned by ASICS found that more than half (54.5%) of women are dropping out or stopping exercise completely.

Some of the key barriers women cited that were stopping them from exercising included time pressures (80%), low self-confidence (55%), cost of gym memberships (65%) and not feeling sporty enough (58%).

Nuffield Health also found that a lack of motivation was the biggest barrier to getting more active for women, with almost six in 10 (59%) citing this.


Young people are also impacted by inequality when it comes to getting enough exercise. The report found that emotional issues like negative body confidence (51%), as well as the high cost of gyms, are the main barriers stopping this demographic from working out.

Although the healthcare charity found that, overall, Britons are exercising more than they did in 2022, almost three in four people are still not hitting the NHS-recommended target of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

This is worrisome, the charity says, particularly because of the negative impact on physical and mental health. It comes as record numbers of people are out of work because of long-term sickness, which is affecting the UK economy.

Data from Nuffield Health’s index shows that 64% of respondents reported they are less productive at work if they are in a poor mental state - with 28% reporting a decline in their mental health in the last year.

Meanwhile, 61% said they are less productive at work if they are in a poor physical state.

People with long-term health conditions are the most seriously affected by low levels of physical activity. Of this group, one in five (20%) have done no exercise at all in the last 12 months, and 79% are not able to meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week.

People with long-term health conditions find it harder to meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week. (Getty Images)
People with long-term health conditions find it harder to meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week. (Getty Images)

The charity is calling for all major political parties to commit to a National Movement Strategy to get the public’s activity levels up and “embed movement into every aspect of society”.

Dr Davina Deniszczyc, Nuffield Health medical and charity director, said of the findings: "Whilst it’s encouraging to see improvements in activity levels, it’s surprising and worrying to see that there is still a lack of understanding of the benefits movement has in preventing and treating long-term conditions.

"We’re already seeing the detrimental effects inactivity levels are having on our personal health, but it’s also having an economic impact. It is critical that as a nation we prioritise movement and work collectively across Government, healthcare providers, employers and the fitness industry, as well as at community level, to find solutions to help people find ways to build movement into their everyday lives."

Former athlete and Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, an ambassador for the charity, added: "Movement has so many benefits for both body and mind, and there needs to be more awareness and understanding of this.

"For some it might be running a half marathon or sweating it out in the gym, however for others it’s a leisurely swim, a brisk walk to the shops or a commitment to take regular breaks away from the desk that can make all the difference.

"By breaking down physical activity into enjoyable and manageable forms that suit you, your motivation increases and it’s no longer perceived as a chore. Once these changes become a habit, then you can make more and build on them."

Watch: Keeping your energy levels up: An expert guide

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