At least a third of Europeans never or seldom take any exercise. That's one of the headline findings of the latest Eurobarometer survey on Sport and Physical activity.
While a clear majority of EU citizens (65%) get some form of physical exercise at least once a week, 34% of respondents said that they seldom or never do physical exercise. And this, remember, is a survey in which people are asked to evaluate themselves. The true picture may be worse.
The survey is timely as sport and physical activity is the theme that some European countries are adopting for Men's Health Week 2010. Men in the EU play more sports than women overall. The disparity is particularly marked in the 15-24 age group, with young men tending to exercise considerably more than young women. The amount of sport that people play tends to decrease uniformly with age. However, 22% respondents in the 70+ age group still play sports.
The citizens of the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, generally speaking, are the most physically active in the EU. Meanwhile, the citizens of Mediterranean countries and the 12 new member states tend to exercise less than average.
While physical activity takes place in a wide range of formal settings across the EU, two-thirds of respondents are not members of any sports clubs or centres. In only two EU countries - Germany and Austria - were the majority of the population a member of a sports club.
The most common reason that respondents cite for why they exercise is to improve their health. Other popular reasons include improving fitness, relaxation and having fun. A shortage of time is by far the commonest reason cited for why people fail to exercise.
In general, the problem is not a lack of opportunity. Three quarters of respondents agree that they have opportunities to be physically active in their area. However, this falls to 56% among respondents from the 12 new member states.