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Getting Active Outdoors | George Fisher

Written by George Fisher


In June, Sport England and the Outdoors Industries Association (the UK trade body for outdoor manufacturers and retailers) published the biggest-ever report into participation in outdoor activities. The report, Getting Active Outdoors, will influence policymakers, government, business and institutions, for years to come.

I want to share some of the report insights as it’s interesting to see how we, as outdoor participants, are being perceived. Hopefully you will recognise you/others and it may prompt you to discover more for yourself.

First, a few numbers:

  • Of the 43.7 million people who live in England, 24m “enjoy the outdoors”
  • Nearly 9m are active in the outdoors (have taken part in outdoor activity in last 12 months)
  • 2.5m are regularly active outdoors (once per week)
  • Of the 24m people who “enjoy the outdoors”, 18.2m want to do more

However, the world is changing. Our population is ageing and people are staying active further into their lives. We are increasingly urban; 80% live in towns and cities. An increased nervousness of exposure to risk is reducing families’ inclination to visit the outdoors. A rise in ‘lifestyle’ sports such as surfing and paddle-boarding are attracting new/younger participants. And traditional sports are something of a turn-off for many young people, whereas outdoor activities are seen as more acceptable.

As you can appreciate, a number of these factors are driving increased participation in outdoor activities whereas other are producing a decline.

There are common themes why people want to be active outdoors:

  • To spend more time with their families
  • To have fun with friends
  • An alternative to traditional sport
  • To enjoy the scenery/be close to nature
  • For fresh air and enjoying the weather
  • To relax/de-stress, get away from modern life

The common responses for NOT participating outdoors are:

  • Too busy with family responsibilities
  • Can’t commit, or don’t have enough time
  • Prefer to spend time doing other things
  • Too expensive

Again, factors pulling in opposite directions! Participation in outdoor activity tends to be a way of life; once introduced to it, individuals stick at it. However there appears to be a common participation lifecycle with a lull in participation in the mid-twenties, when marriage, children and career become prioritised, followed by re-engagement in the late thirties/early forties. During these changes the individuals choice of activity may also change, generally from lifestyle activities, such as surfing or mountain biking, to more leisure based activities such as hill walking.

Researchers also identified eight participant groups:

  • Explorer: activity driven by emotional purpose, revolving round exploring and learning (maybe linked to other activities such as bird watching or photography)
  • Challenger: focused on personal achievement; may not enjoy the experience itself but enjoyment comes from gaining a sense of control & achievement
  • Fitness in Nature: prefers exercising outdoors, doesn’t like the gym; competing is not that important
  • Tribe Member: committed to their activity; training and improvement are important, very likely to be a member of a relevant club
  • Adventurer: lives life to the full, pushes themselves physically, has a great time with friends in the giant outdoor playground
  • Learner: primary purpose of visit to the outdoors is for learning or personal development – they may discover a love for outdoor activity along the way
  • Freestyler: takes part in alternative freestyle sports for the lifestyle or culture that’s associated with it. Music and fashion play a key part in their lifestyle.
  • Thrill Seeker: it’s all about the adrenaline rush! May enjoy being out of control but are willing for someone else to manage the risk for them.

It’s likely you’ll see yourself in more than one category depending on your activity, or even stage in life. I fall into a number of categories; at the moment it’s mainly Fitness in Nature and Challenger, as I’m training to do the OMM-Lite in September with my 15-year-old son, but I’m also a regular Explorer. So, which one are you?

A critical finding was that 43% of outdoor participants first engaged in outdoor activity before they were 15 years old… and 100% started before they were 23! Effectively if you don’t start young, you never discover the outdoors at all!

This article barely scratches the surface of the report, the detail it contains is staggering. However, it could be argued that the most important issue we can glean from it is that there are many people currently doing little or no outdoor activity who have a desire to get involved, or do more, but in many cases don’t know where to begin.

I appreciate that as current participants in outdoor activities we may not want to see an influx of newcomers. However, imagine the benefit to society if we could encourage more fellow citizens to experience just what the British countryside has to offer. The report may change policymakers’ perceptions of what could be done by using the outdoor environment in a more creative and inspirational manner.

Read the report at:

If you would like to tell us how you got involved in outdoor activity, and what motivates you to get out and be active, share your thoughts on our new interactive website (planned for late September) or post on our Facebook page.

Cover photo: Tony West, courtesy of Cumbria Tourism