Let’s get the bad news out of the way – the majority of us in England don’t do anywhere near the recommended amount of exercise needed to stave off diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, or to keep the weight off.

1 in 10 of us were revealed to not even have gone for a five-minute walk in the last month, and 90% admitted they hadn’t been to the gym.

If you’re wondering whether these are the results of a flimsy poll, they aren’t.

couch potato

A new study by the University of Bristol revealed that millions of Brits are leading a couch potato lifestyle and it was one of the most comprehensive of physical fitness levels in England, reported The Daily Mail.

Despite being told repeatedly about the benefits of walking and the recommended amount of physical activity per month, the figures indicate that more than ever, we’re leading sedentary lifestyles. As well as the low walking figures, 88% had not been swimming and 20% of people who did exercise admitted that they had only done the bare minimum.

Researcher Carol Propper added: “The level of physical activity is shockingly low.”

What is the recommended amount of exercise?

At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

Source: NHS.uk

What could be causing such a poor lifestyle trend? We asked a range of fitness and lifestyle experts for their take on it.

Alan Jackson, founder of the Weight Management Centre (WMC) an organisation dedicated to tackling the obesity epidemic in the UK, says that we have a problem managing busy schedules with leisure, and that technology has a big role to play.

“This intriguing idea suggests that the development of the labour-saving devices of the last 30 years (washing machines, dishwashers, personal transport etc.) would act to free us all up so that we could do lots of active pastimes and benefit by feeling happier and healthier as a result.

“However this proved not to be the case on two counts. First of all, it did free up time, however we used that time to engage with passive activities also driven by technology such as TV, computers and online activities.”

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  • Myth: It’s Too Late To Get In Shape

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  • Myth: You Need A Long Workout

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  • Myth: If You’re Not In Pain, You’re Not Working Hard Enough

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  • Myth: You Can Spot Reduce Fat

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  • Myth: More Exercise Is Always Better

    Truth: Intense exercising every single day will burn you out, making you less likely to maintain a routine. Your muscles need time to recover. You also might not be keeping your form as well during frequent, extra-long workouts. Focusing on a few days of quality exercise a week instead of 7 days of mediocre effort will earn you better results. <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/staying-motivated-to-exercise-from-joy-bauer-marlo-thomas-mondays-with-marlo_n_2272893.html?1355175046″ target=”_blank”>Watch</a>

However Sam Feltham, fitness expert and HuffPost UK blogger said the results weren’t surprising because there is a big gulf between the have and have not’s in today’s society, and not everyone is clued up on nutrition in Britain.

Obese people start to become obese first and sedentary behaviour follows, instead of people being sedentary first and then becoming obese because of that. The bottom line is we become obese because of over-consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates rather than eating too much in general and exercising too little, and unfortunately those most likely to have a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates are those of a low level of socioeconomic status.”

Alan adds that this gulf has led to polar opposites in Britain with regards to exercise, and that it’s not just poorer families who aren’t being active. “There is now a clear polarisation of time availability with those with the highest income (who are more likely to exercise) having the least time and feeling constantly time pressurised and those without work having lots of time, but little money to engage in some healthy pastimes as cost can be prohibitive (using the gym or health club, golf, taking the kids to sports clubs).

“Therefore the net effect is less physical activity in both groups.”

International athlete and fitness expert Ross Edgley said he was surprised by the figures, revealing that it didn’t know it was that bad.

But he feels that the government needs to do more to help people from lower income families, and that we need more understanding on how our reliance on technology is impacting our lives and making us lazier.

person mobile phone

“To be slightly controversial… I don’t think the commercialisation of the health and fitness industry has helped. Back in the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher introduced something called Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) to outsource the public sector.

“This gave birth to commercial gym chains which in turn saw personal trainers, fitness publications, supplement companies and health companies of every kind ‘pop-up’ since they saw there was money to be made from people wanting to get fit.”

The bottom line, is that even if you aren’t obese, we need a radical shift in how we view keeping healthy.

“The big questions are,” says Alan, “why do we dislike exercise so much, and why do we place so little value on it? There is now incontrovertible evidence to show that next to smoking, being sedentary is the most dangerous thing you can do with relation to chronic ‘lifestyle’ diseases such diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“If we were going on holiday to a tropical country we have no problem taking our anti-malarial medication. However, exercise is the most powerful prophylactic against non-contagious diseases, yet we choose to not take it, despite vascular disease being the biggest killer in the developed world.”

But the solution, says Sam, isn’t to focus on free gym memberships but to tackle the root of the problem: food. “Exercising for a lot of obese people is like torture, so we need to help people get back in touch with real food and get rid of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

“Once we move away from these fake foods we will lose the weight and want to become more active naturally. As a fitness expert I’m certainly not saying that exercise is not good for us but it is not the solution to our obesity epidemic, we can’t out-train these metabolically damaging foods however hard we try.”


Alan believes that we need to look at a long-term strategy however, and that begins in school.

“The most obvious and practical thing that can be done immediately would be to introduce at least one hour each day of high quality physical activity in every school as mandatory. The sooner we move away from the obsessive addiction to the three R’s and provide a more holistic approach to educating our children the better.

“The evidence clearly shows that if you don’t’ exercise as a child, you don’t adopt it in later life. From this we can deduce that being sedentary is a learned behaviour; and a very dangerous one at that!”