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Prevalence of physical activity during leisure time in the European Union


Martinez-Gonzalez, Miguel A.; Varo, Jose J.; Santos, Jose L.; De Irala, Jokin; Gibney, Michael; Kearney, John; & Martinez, J. Alfredo (2001). Prevalence of physical activity during leisure time in the European Union. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(7), 1142-1146.


Purpose: To estimate the prevalence of physical activity during leisure time in adults from the 15 member states of the European Union and the relationship with sociodemographic variables.

Methods: A representative sample, with approximately 1000 adults, aged 15 and upward, was selected from each member state to complete a questionnaire on attitudes to physical activity, body weight, and health by a face-to-face interview, summing a total of 15,239 subjects. The amount of leisure-time physical activity was quantified by assigning metabolic equivalents (METs) to each activity. Multiple linear regression models with MET-h·wk−1 as the dependent variable were fitted.

Results: Northern European countries showed higher levels of physical activity than southern ones. The highest prevalence (91.9%) was found in Finland, and the lowest (40.7%) in Portugal. A higher percentage of men practiced any leisure-time physical activity and also showed higher mean of MET-h·wk−1. In both genders, the multivariate models showed a significant trend to higher leisure time activity in participants with higher educational levels and in nonsmokers. Also, an inverse association between body mass index and leisure-time physical activity was found.

Conclusion: The prevalence of any physical activity during leisure time in the adult European population was similar to the U.S. estimates. Nevertheless, the amount of activity is low, and a wide disparity between countries exists. To our knowledge, this is the first study determining the prevalence and amount of leisure-time physical activity, which is the first step to define strategies to persuade populations to increase their physical activity.

Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise


Martinez-Gonzalez, Miguel A.
Varo, Jose J.
Santos, Jose L.
De Irala, Jokin
Gibney, Michael
Kearney, John
Martinez, J. Alfredo