Gains made getting people more physically active over the last few years were all but 'cancelled out' during the first seven weeks of lockdown, according to Sport England.
In publishing its latest Active Lives
survey, the sports body said activity levels in England were on course to reach record highs before the pandemic hit.
The study – conducted on behalf of Sport England by Ipsos MORI – covers the 12 months from mid-May 2019 to mid-May 2020 and includes the first seven weeks of lockdown restrictions.
Figures show that more than 3 million people were less active between mid-March and mid-May, compared to the same period a year before, demonstrating the extent to which people’s lives were disrupted.
The survey results also highlight the importance of organised sport and access to facilities for specific group – and that some groups found it more difficult to adapt to the new regulations than others.
Disabled people, people aged 70 and over, people with long-term health conditions and people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups (BAME) were disproportionately impacted.
The proportion of active 16-34-year-olds dropped by 10 per cent during lockdown, likely due to their reliance on the activities that were not available in this period and the closure of school and further education settings.
Overall, the data shows that between mid-May 2019 and mid-May 2020, just 62.8 per cent of adults (28.6m) were classed as active, achieving 150+ minutes of activity a week.
More than a quarter of adults (25.5 per cent – 11.6m) were deemed inactive (less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week).
With gyms, swimming pools and sports clubs closing their doors in March 2020, people turned towards activities such as walking, cycling and running.
Walking for leisure showed growth across the 12 months, while cycling for leisure, running and fitness activities continued to follow flat trends.
New products and increased promotion of digitally consumed fitness activities led to more people exercising at home.
During full lockdown, more than 13 million adults took part in fitness activities. This made it the second most common activity undertaken behind walking for leisure.
"With gyms and leisure centres closed, people were encouraged to find alternative activities that could be accessed at home," the report reads.
"The fitness sector was quick to respond, and people were able to switch to digital and self-led fitness classes and interval sessions.
"As a result, numbers held up more than would have been expected. Other ways of exercising at home are reflected in the increase in generic fitness training, which includes activities such as press-ups, pull-ups and other bodyweight exercises."
Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England CEO, said: “Though the early months of lockdown brought unprecedented disruption to our lives and had a huge impact on our overall engagement in sport and physical activity, it is also positive to see how many people turned to new activities like cycling, fitness at home and running.
"It also highlights the challenges this year has brought to those groups who already find it harder than most to be active, with disabled people, people with health conditions and younger people struggling, reminding us of the importance of educational settings, community leisure facilities and team sports that underpin access to activity for so many people across England.
"As facilities have reopened and activities have restarted, great credit is due to those who are out there working incredibly hard ensuring people can return to the sports and activities they love, and though we know the winter months will bring additional challenges, with government support we will continue to support our sector through our funding, our insight and our campaigns."
• To download and read the full Active Lives
study, click here for the Sport England website.