New research has named north-east England the UK’s most active region, with residents exercising or playing sport an average of 5.2 times a month, compared with a national average of 4.82. It came out on top in a recent survey of more than 7,600 adults carried out by sporting goods retailers Decathlon, with the most active demographic north-eastern men aged 35-44. The region placed ahead of Northern Ireland (5.04 times), the south-west (5.03), Wales (5.02) and Scotland (4.87); London, at 10th, was the third-least-active region.
Meanwhile, a team from the Tyneside placed ahead of any other UK team in the Europe Regional CrossFit Games this year, and 11th overall; 2016 official labour market figures revealed that Newcastle had one of the highest numbers of fitness facilities per 100,000 residents in the country.
So, what’s going on? Lots of running, says Tom Lavender of Newcastle, who organises the Great North Run, the world’s largest half-marathon. He reckons the geography of the north-east is especially conducive to outdoor exercise. “We have a wonderful coastline and hills with walking routes and cycling routes. The north-east is blessed with open space for people to go out and walk, cycle and be active, whether it’s competitive or just as a family.”
The area has produced plenty of sporting legends, too. “We’re passionate about our sporting heroes up here, from your Brendan Fosters to your Steve Crams, who have come through local running clubs and built this tradition,” says Lavender.
Jonathan Mumby, 27, who was part of this year’s Yorkshire men’s tennis squad, says that northern pride lends itself to competitiveness in sport and “big, passionate fanbases … That passion for sport filters down.”
Track and field legend Steve “the Jarrow Arrow” Cram is cautious about his impact. “Role models help, but it’s about lifestyle,” he says. “It tends to be less affluent areas like the north-east that have problems with exercise. A lot of the health issues we have tend to be related to social deprivation.”
This year, NHS Digital found the north-east had the highest prevalence of obesity in England, and that the link between obesity in an area and its deprivation applied more to women than it did men. Cram puts on several running events in the area, and says they have been growing in popularity over the past four or five years, particularly with women aged 35-55. Northern men may have more competition for the title of the UK’s most active people in the future.