In which countries do people exercise most around the world – and what stops them doing more?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • An Ipsos survey asked 21,000 adults about exercise habits.
  • People in the Netherlands are the most physically active, spending more than 12 hours a week exercising or playing sport.
  • More than half of people (58%) across the 29 countries surveyed want to play more sport.
  • Men spend 90 more minutes (on average) doing physical exercise than women each week.

Exercise is proven to keep us fit and healthy as we age – reducing our risk of dementia and boosting our immune systems.

But more than half of us feel they’re not playing enough sport, according to a new global survey of exercise trends.

Ipsos asked more than 21,000 adults from 29 countries about how active they are. Here are some of the key findings:

Which nations do the most and least exercise?

a chart showing the mean number of physical exercise hours per week
Citizens of the Netherlands are the most active. Image: IPSOS

On average people spend around six hours being active each week, almost an hour each day.

People in the Netherlands are the most physically active, spending more than 12 hours a week exercising or playing sport, followed by people from Germany and Romania, both at around 11 hours.

At the other end of the scale are people in Brazil, Japan, Italy, Chile and France, who do less than four hours of physical activity each week.

One in three people in Japan (34%) said they don’t exercise at all, compared to only 4% of people in the Netherlands, while the global average is 14%.

What’s stopping people from playing sport?

this chart shows the barriers that stop people from practising sports
Lack of time is the most common barrier. Image: IPSOS

More than half of people (58%) want to play more sport across the 29 countries surveyed, with only 6% people saying they want to play less.

Not having enough time was the main reason people gave for not playing more sport, followed by lack of money and then the weather being either too hot or too cold.

Not having sports facilities – or people to play – completed the top five reasons why people aren’t playing as much sport as they’d like.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

this chart shows the sports that people practise and playin a normal week
Fitness and running are the most commonly practised sports and activities. Image: IPSOS

Fitness was the most popular form of exercise – done by one in five adults each week, followed by running (19%), cycling (13%), soccer (10%) and swimming (9%).

Rugby and field and ice hockey were the sports played least – at just 1% – while more than a third of people don’t play any sport during the week.

Is there a fitness gender gap?

the number of exercise hours per week done by both men and women
Men play more sport than women on average each week. Image: IPSOS

Men spend 90 more minutes (on average) doing physical exercise than women each week, the survey found.

Men in the Netherlands are the most active, saying they spend 15.2 hours in a normal week doing physical exercise on average. Brazilian and Japanese men spend the least time on average per week (3.4 and 3.9 hours respectively).

Women in Germany are the most active, followed by Dutch and Romanian women. Italian, Brazilian and Japanese women report the lowest average time spent doing physical exercise per week.

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