With lockdowns placing huge restrictions on many sporting activities like going to the gym, Brits are increasingly embracing the great outdoors. The number of hikers has increased from 16% in 2018 to 23% in 2020, according to new research from Mintel.
Those aged 55-64 (30%) are most likely to be donning their walking boots, with participation rates remaining stable since 2018. Not to be deterred by the odd blister or two, Britain’s young are hot on the trail as a quarter (24%) of 16- to 24-year-olds are ramblers, up from 16% in 2018. But it’s not just hiking participation that has climbed; the number of joggers has increased from 18% in 2018 to 22% in 2020.
From two feet to two wheels, cycling for fitness has grown from 16% to 20% in three years alone. And while MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra) have traditionally loved their racing bikes, Mintel research reveals that it is young men who are driving the current cycling craze — 40% of men aged 16-24 are cyclists, compared to just 27% of men aged 25-44.
Yoga/pilates participation has increased from 10% in 2018 to 15% in 2020. While still a female-dominated activity, yoga is now attracting 13% of men aged 25-44.
“Outdoor sports such as hiking, jogging, and cycling are some of the activities permitted through both lockdowns. The balance between physical and mental wellness that consumers now seek is reflected in the growing popularity of ‘mindful’ exercise such as yoga, and outdoor sports such as hiking that allow participants to feel connected to their environment,” says Lauren Ryan, leisure and travel analyst at Mintel.
“More recently, outdoor leisure activities have benefitted as they are viewed as safer in terms of COVID-19 infection risk compared to indoor activities. The increase in walking and rambling has been helped, in part, by successive years of largely favorable weather and highlights the significant potential for growth available to sports that utilize natural outdoor settings. Now in ‘Lockdown 2.0’, consumers will likely bring with them the lessons of the first lockdown. Many will be determined to fulfill fitness goals that fell by the wayside the first time around. The fact that, this time around, walkers can be accompanied with one person from another household is also likely to encourage more outside activities.”
Testing times encourage middle-aged fitness enthusiasts
Sports participation rates are now broadly static, with around two thirds of Brits taking part at least annually. While sports activity is largely skewed toward younger age groups, participation among 55- to 64-year-olds continues to rise. It has increased steadily from 43% in 2018 to 59% in 2020. Similarly, those aged 45-54 also saw a significant increase, up from 53% to 63% over the same three years.
In total, 80% of all online adults engaged in some sort of exercise during the COVID-19 restrictions of the spring and summer. Young people’s exercise habits were strongly biased toward in-home activity: three quarters of those aged 16-24 exercised at home compared to less than half of those aged 55-64. But it seems the virus has proved more challenging for the young in terms of sports participation. While over half of those aged 55-64 found it easy to stay active during the COVID-19 restrictions, this figure dropped successively through the age groups to a low of just over a third of 16-to 24-year-olds.
“The absence of organized sport and closure of participation venues appears to have affected younger players more than older ones, whose playing habits may be more informal and independent,” Ryan says. “Younger participants tried to replicate gym-based activity in the home or turned to online workouts to maintain fitness. Older people saw less disruption to their most popular sports, particularly hiking/rambling and cycling, and so had less need to seek substitutes.”