Key facts

  • In 2017, 65% of adults achieved the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.

  • An estimated 37% of children (aged 2-15 years) in Scotland met the physical activity guideline for children in 2017 when including activity done at school.

  • In 2017, 26% of children aged 2-15 were at risk of being overweight, including 13% at risk of obesity.

  • Half of all adults aged 75 and above (50%) had very low levels of activity, (equivalent to less than half an hour a week of moderate exercise), compared to one in nine of those aged 16-44 (10-12%).

  • Adults in the most deprived areas of Scotland were less likely to meet physical activity recommendations (56%), compared with the least deprived areas (72%).



Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of premature death in Scotland. Evidence shows that even small increases in activity can help to prevent and treat chronic diseases and improve quality of life.

In order to positively impact people’s health and well-being at a population level through physical activity, strong leadership is needed across

  • policy
  • planning
  • provision and delivery of services.

This strong leadership is needed at local, regional and national level to ensure the right environments are available for all that promote and support people in being active regularly.

Changing culture and improving health and well-being at the individual and societal level can be achieved by all of the below:

  • ensuring people have informed choices about their activity levels
  • raising awareness of the benefits of physical activity
  • encouraging people to be active across the course of their life.

Providing opportunities to participate in physical activity can build confidence and ability. This can enable people to be active throughout their lives and achieve the health, social and economic benefits.

National Policy

Along with eating well and having a healthy weight, being physically active forms one of the six Public Health Priorities for Scotland published jointly by the Scottish Government and COSLA in 2018. It features specifically in priority 6. Together, these six public health priorities aim to achieve 'a Scotland where everybody thrives’.


Inequalities and Physical Activity

The amount of physical activity a person does is influenced by a number of factors. This includes social and personal factors such as

  • age
  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • disability
  • where a person lives
  • whether they have a job and if so what it involves
  • financial circumstances.

The Scottish Government's vision for a more active Scotland aims to increase physical activity and to reduce health inequalities. Progress relating to inequality in physical activity is monitored and reported on annually. The Scottish Government’s Active Scotland Outcomes Framework is underpinned by equality.


20 minute neighbourhoods

20 minute neighbourhoods' are places that are designed so residents can meet their day-to-day needs within a 20 minute walk of their home; through access to safe walking and cycling routes, or by public transport. Many places around the world have made commitments or drawn up plans to support the realisation of the concept. However, only a few have made 20 minute neighbourhoods a reality.

Neighbourhoods are defined by the communities who live there and each will have unique aspirations of the services and facilities they require. This will also vary depending on topography, landscape, population density, economic status, location and a range of other factors. A prominent objective of the 20 minute neighbourhoods model is to better align spatial planning (what’s in an area) with transport planning (transport infrastructure), to make it easier for individuals to walk, cycle and use public transport. How spaces and transport are planned should be supported by ensuring 20 minute neighbourhoods are designed to be inclusive and equitable.

Active Scotland

The Scottish Government's vision for a more active Scotland is described in the National Outcomes Framework under Health (‘we are healthy and Active'). The Framework is supported by Scotland's Physical Activity Delivery Plan, A More Active Scotland, launched in July 2018. Other national strategies and plans include Let's get Scotland Walking, the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, 2017-2020, Sport Scotland's Raising the bar and Transport Scotland’s Active Travel Framework. The definition of physical activity by the World Health Organization and UK Chief Medical Officers, which includes any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. It thus includes activities such as everyday walking or cycling to get from A to B, active play, work related activity, active recreation such as working out in a gym, dancing, gardening or playing active games, as well as organised and competitive sports and many other activities.

Walking and Cycling

The Active Travel Framework brings together the key policy approaches to improving the uptake of walking and cycling in Scotland for travel. Its ambition is that by 2030, Scotland’s communities will be shaped around people and place, encouraging walking and cycling to be the most popular mode of travel.

The benefits of more people cycling and walking include:

  • easing congestion
  • reducing noise pollution
  • cutting exhaust emissions
  • improving health
  • giving us more time to enjoy our urban spaces
  • saving money


The National Transport Strategy also promotes walking, wheeling and cycling over single car use.


The World Health Organisation provides information which supports local planners in developing active environments.

Cycling by Design offers extensive guidance on providing cycle facilities.

National Physical Activity Pathway developed by Public Health Scotland can be used to structure a conversation with adults about their physical activity using five simple steps. The pathway is cyclical in nature and is designed to motivate and enable adults not currently meeting the CMO guidelines to be more active.

Physical inactivity contributes to nearly 2,500 deaths in Scotland annually, costing the NHS around £94 million

British Heart Foundation Research, 2012

Urban Design - Transport and Population Health

With the world’s population estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050, with 75% living in cities, city planning is now being recognised as a part of a comprehensive solution to tackling adverse health outcomes. Professor Mark Stevenson, an epidemiologist and Professor of Urban Transport and Public Health at the University of Melbourne, said momentum and awareness is growing around the health and well-being benefits available through changes to city planning and transport modal shift.

Watch the video here