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The UK’s Top Fittest Cities During Pandemic

couple running in city scaled

It’s common knowledge that popular exercises such as running, lifting weights and cycling can keep you fit and healthy, but what about the regular activities we undertake in daily life? 

New research has revealed some of the most surprising everyday calorie burners, from taking a bath to vacuuming, as well as survey results unearthing the nation’s exercise habits.

Health and fitness expert Lee Cain also offered his insights and advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

How fit are Brits?

  • Londoners work out more (avg. 3 times a week) than any other UK region, while those in the North West work out the least (avg. 1.9 times a week)
  • Millennials spend the most on fitness, with 25-34-year-olds spending an average of £22 a month
  • Northern Ireland were the most active during lockdown, while the South West was the least active

Are we a nation of fitness fanatics or couch potatoes? According to the survey, half of Brits claim to live a moderately or very active lifestyle, with 35-44-year-olds most likely to describe their lifestyle as “very active”.

At the other end of the scale, 22% of Brits admit to living a somewhat or very sedentary lifestyle.

Cain explains that, “In the UK, the Chief Medical Officer has published a series of exercise and physical activity targets.

For adults aged 19-64, these guidelines recommend that they should accumulate at least 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, cycling); or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (e.g. running); or even shorter durations of very vigorous intensity activity (such as sprinting or stair climbing); or a combination of all of these.”

Based on how many times per week Brits have trained during the pandemic, these are the UK fittest cities.


Of all age groups, millennials work out the most, averaging 3.1 times a week, compared with a national average of 2.3 times.

Londoners are also the most prone to working out, with 21% attending weekly exercise classes and nearly a quarter running at least once a week.

This said, when fitness centres closed for lockdown, those in the North West were the most likely to swap the gym for the great outdoors.   

Cain says, “There is no single exercise or sport that will develop every aspect of fitness, so it’s important to participate in a range of activities that will keep all of the body’s systems functioning effectively and efficiently.”

How did lockdown impact Brits’ health and fitness?

  • 1 in 10 people replaced going to the gym with home workouts during lockdown
  • 1 in 5 Brits admit to being less active during lockdown
  • A quarter of Brits admit to snacking more over lockdown

Faced with lockdown and social distancing restrictions throughout the year, it’s to be expected that the nation’s fitness habits would be slightly different to usual.

The survey found that while a fifth of people reported being less active during lockdown, 1 in 10 started healthier habits.

For example, a quarter of Brits spent longer cooking, which could equate to more nutritional meals. Over a fifth also stated they used regular exercise as a form of self-care in challenging times.

Cain is a big advocate for using exercise to boost mental wellbeing, explaining that “Aside from the physical benefits of physical activity and exercise, there are also a profound number of mental and emotional benefits, including reduced stress, anxiety and a more stable mood.”

Of all age groups, 25-34-year-olds were the most committed to staying fit during lockdown and are also the most likely to report feeling stressed about the gyms being closed.

This said, 45-54-year-olds are the age-group most likely to say they were more active during lockdown than they were before.

Cain says there are plenty of ways to stay fit at home, explaining “There are lots of things that you can do around the house, like a virtual yoga or Pilates class, some online Zumba, or even just an old school aerobics class. YouTube is full of programmes like these that you can do for free.”

What are the top trending exercises of 2020?

  • 15% of 16-24-year-olds stayed active during the pandemic by trying trending exercises on social media
  • HIIT has been named the most popular fitness trend in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Half an hour learning a TikTok dance could burn 253 kcals for males and 216 kcals for females, the equivalent of a Subway sandwich with turkey breast or steak

In the digital age, social media and the internet play a significant role in the fitness industry.

Fitness influencers are celebrities in their own right, and there are countless online health and fitness programmes available, and communities to join.

In fact, according to the survey, 1 in 10 25-34-year olds say they joined an online fitness community during lockdown.

With an open platform to share content and start discussions, many brand-new fitness trends are born, with the potential to go viral.

Fitness challenges are rife on social media, providing much-needed motivation to stay active, especially when gyms are closed.

Some of the most popular challenges of 2020 include the 30-day split challenge and the 5k challenge, though HIIT remains the most popular.

In 2020, TikTok took the world by storm, with millions taking to the social media platform to learn dance routines, particularly the 16-24 age group.

And it turns out that busting some dance moves is a great way to stay fit, with half an hour of dancing burning over 200 calories. Plus, making exercise enjoyable is great motivation to stay fit.

Cain explains that “With exercise, variety is necessary in order to prevent boredom, staleness and plateaus in progress.

If, over-time, you perform the same exercises, in the same order and at the same or similar intensities, the body will find ways of meeting those demands with less.

That means that every time you exercise, you burn fewer calories! So, it’s important to keep mixing things up so the body is forced to continually adapt.”

How many calories can you burn doing everyday activities?

  • An hour vacuuming your home could burn 320 kcals for men and 250 kcals for women, while working out arms, legs, and core
  • An hour of cooking, could burn more calories than half an hour of lifting weights
  • On average, we burn over 3,000 calories a week sleeping

While most of us know the importance of exercise, you may be surprised to hear how you could be unknowingly blitzing calories as you simply go about your day.

For example, by spending an hour gardening, you could burn 460 kcals if you’re biologically male or 394 kcals if you’re female – that’s more than half an hour’s worth of jogging (426 kcals for males and 365 kcals for females)!

Plus, by getting outside to pull some weeds, you could also soak up some vitamin D, boost your immune system, and lower your blood pressure.

Lee Cain says, “Whether it’s cleaning windows, gardening, making beds, walking the dog, ironing, mopping or sweeping the floor, the amount of energy expended while performing these tasks can be some 4-5 times greater than that at rest.”

Other seemingly mundane tasks that can burn calories are ironing, baking and even sleeping. What’s more, when you take a hot bath, you burn calories more rapidly thanks to your body temperature rising.

This said, Cain explains “It’s important to recognise that exercise and physical activity are not the same thing and that their effects as far as ‘calorie burning’ is concerned, can be equal, but not the same.

Exercise is a structured form of physical activity that is usually performed with the goal of improving one or more aspects of fitness, whereas physical activity is a little more general, and may simply include walking up the stairs.”