Physical activity overview

There are health benefits from being active. Even small increases in activity can protect against chronic diseases and improve quality of life. However there are also health risks associated with inactivity, which is why inactivity is the joint second biggest cause of death along with smoking.

You can find resources for you to use with patients to approach the idea of physical activity, and more information about the levels of recommended physical activity below.

  • In 2014, 63% of adults took part in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.
  • Just over three quarters (76%) of children met the guidelines of 60 minutes of activity each day.
  • Physical inactivity adds to nearly 2,500 deaths in Scotland each year.
  • The cost to the economy of physical inactivity is around £91 million per year.

You can read more data on physical activity on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) site (external site).

Physical activity and health inequalities

The amount of physical activity a person does is influenced by a number of factors. This includes social and personal factors such as

  • age
  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • disability
  • where a person lives
  • whether they have a job and if so what it involves.

Progress relating to inequality in physical activity is monitored and reported on annually. The Scottish Government report 'Active Scotland Outcomes: indicator equality analysis' (external site) highlights

  • increased walking is reducing inequalities but differences still exist, particularly for disabled people
  • excluding school-based activity such as PE, the inequality in sports participation by deprivation in children is widening
  • retirement and the transition from primary to secondary school are key moments to influence physical activity in old age and children respectively
  • the inequality by gender in physical activity has narrowed substantially between teenage boys and girls since 2008, largely driven by girls becoming more active.

The report concluded that work to address inequality is required on all fronts, with effort particularly focused on

  • ensuring initiatives are well targeted to ensure maintenance of activity through life and into old age
  • ensuring suitable measures are taken to ensure those with limiting conditions want to and can take up physical activities and remain active.

National actions

The Scottish Government's vision for a more active Scotland is described in the Active Scotland Outcomes Framework (external site)

The Framework is supported by Scotland's Physical Activity Delivery Plan 'A More Active Scotland' (external site) launched in July 2018. 

Additional strategies and plans include Let's get Scotland walking (external site) and Raising the bar (external site).

Recommendations on the amount and type of physical activity we should aim to do at different stages in our lives are set out in 'Start Active, Stay Active' (external site), a UK wide report from the four nations' Chief Medical Officers on the UK Government website. The report is supported by separate infographics for adults as well as for children and young people.

Local actions

To help you plan, deliver or assess your physical activity interventions you can join the Physical Activity Health Alliance (PAHA). It offers a wealth of shared resources and sources of good practice including

  • new research findings
  • a monthly e-newsletter
  • learning exchange events
  • case studies of best practice.

You can also use the NHS inform Keeping active pages (external site) to find activities and advice for people when you want to help someone become more active.

We have developed a physical activity pathway for you to use with patients to approach the idea of increased physical activity.

We have also created a range of physical activity elearning resources (external site) that you can use to develop your work around physical activity.

Contact us

You can contact us if you have any queries about our work on physical activity, including PAHA.