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Health of Scotland’s population - Physical Activity

Physical Activity

The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle are well documented and there is abundant evidence that regular activity is related to a reduced incidence of chronic conditions of particular concern in Scotland, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Physical activity is also associated with better health and cognitive function among older people, and can reduce the risk of falls in those with mobility problems. In 2008, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 3.2 million deaths per year could be attributed to low physical activity levels.


In 2016, 64% of adults aged 16 and over met the current moderate/vigorous physical activity (MVPA) guideline.  There has been no significant change to this proportion since 2012.  Men were more likely than women to meet the guideline (69% compared to 59%).  The gap was widest within the oldest age group: 39% of men aged 75+ met the guideline, compared with 24% of women of the same age.

Proportion of adults (16+) meeting physical activity guidelines, 2012-2016

Adult physical activity, 2012-2016

Note that physical activity guidelines changed in 2011.  See chapter 6 (physical activity) in the 2012 Scottish Health Survey for more information.

The Scottish Government has established a National Indicator to increase physical activity, measured by the proportion of adults meeting the recommendation to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on 5 or more days per week.


In 2016, 76% of children met the physical activity recommendations (including school-based activity).  Boys (79%) remain more likely than girls (72%) to meet the guideline.

Proportion of children (2-15) meeting physical activity recommendations, 1998-2016

Child physical activity, 1998- 2016

Prior to 2008, data were only collected excluding school-based activity.  Using this measure, the proportion of children meeting the recommendations has not shown a significant difference from 1998 (65%) to 2016 (68%) and has fluctuated between 62% and 70% over that time.

Source: Scottish Health Survey (SHeS)

View chart data

Further Information