People believe exercising is the best way to support the NHS

Exercise has been voted the number one way the public can help the NHS – ahead of paying taxes and cutting down on smoking and drinking.

A study of 2,123 UK adults by Savanta ComRes found people believe being physically active to improve their health will support the NHS and reduce pressure on its services.

Next on the list, by a margin, is cutting smoking, followed by improving diets, paying taxes, and cutting alcohol.

In total, more than half (51 per cent) of respondents rank exercise in the top three ways to help.

The research, commissioned by industry body ukactive and published ahead of National Fitness Day on 23 September, also shows how people have discovered the benefits of exercise during the pandemic.

More than two thirds (69 per cent) of respondents now want to do more exercise due to the impact of COVID-19, while more than half (58 per cent) of respondents said that, during lockdown, they were able to manage their mental health and wellbeing through being active

There is, however, still work to be done to get the public more active. A quarter of respondents are classed as physically inactive (25 per cent), only doing 30 minutes or less of moderate exercise a week – including 12 per cent who admit they get no exercise at all.

“We welcome these findings as the latest evidence of the vital role that physical activity can play in supporting our NHS and helping us create a happier, healthier society,” said Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of Sport England.

“Our sports clubs, gyms, parks and leisure centres help form the fabric of our society: supporting community cohesion, improving wellbeing, reducing loneliness and anti-social behaviour and boosting productivity in the workplace.”

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, chair of ukactive, added: “Physical activity has never before played such a vital role in our lives.

“By being more active, we not only have the chance to improve our mental and physical health, but also to give ourselves a better chance against COVID-19 and reduce the burden on the NHS.

“No matter what your age, ability or background, we all have a common interest in physical activity.”

The findings come ahead of National Fitness Day – a campaign which highlights the vital role physical activity plays in uniting communities and helping people to lead healthier, happier lives.

Under the banner, ‘Fitness Unites Us’, the day will see thousands of Covid-secure free events and activities take place in parks, leisure centres, gyms, schools and workplaces across the UK, as well as online through providers’ digital platforms, encouraging people to try new activities and start new fitness habits.