Who walks?

Walking is Britain's most popular outdoor recreation by far and still an important mode of transport, though walking overall has shown a historic decline.

Walking as recreation

According to Britan’s most comprehensive survey of sport and recreation participation, 9.1million adults in England, or 22% of the population, walk recreationally for at least 30 minutes in four weeks. This is almost twice the number that swim (5.6million, 13.4%), more than twice the number that go to the gym (4.5million, 10.7%) and nearly three times the number that cycle (3.5million, 8.5%).

In Scotland, 30% of adults walk recreationally at least 3km/2 miles in four weeks. 16% swim and 10% cycle.

Almost a third of adults in Wales (31.6%) walk recreationally for at least 3km/2 miles in four weeks. 12.3% swim and 5.4% cycle.

Walking is the joint most popular activity (along with eating out) for people taking days out in England, and the most important reason for 18% of the 3.6billion trips per year. It is the main activity on 36% of countryside and 33% of seaside visits and the most popular activity for UK visitors to Scotland and Wales.

A third of adults in Britain say walking for more than 10 minutes is their only form of exercise in a typical month.

Walking as transport

Nearly all journeys involve walking, often to connect with other transport modes. 23% of all journeys in Great Britain are made entirely on foot and 75% of journeys under 1 mile/1.6km are on foot. The average person travels 315km/197 miles a year on foot, or 3% of total distance travelled.

The most popular reason for walking is to go shopping (21%), followed by education (including escort education) (20%), and leisure or social purposes (20%). 17% of walk trips are ‘just to walk’ including dog walking.

In addition to journeys entirely on foot, the average British adult makes 78 journeys per year combining walking with public transport. 25% of British households do not have access to a car.

Who walks?

Almost everyone is capable of walking. Only 4% of people either need help when walking outside the home or are unable to walk on their own at all.

Leisure walking is enjoyed almost equally by both men and women. Fractionally more men walk than women: in England, 22.7% of men walk for at least 30 minutes in four weeks but only 21.2% of women. These figures should be compared with overall participation rates in sport in England: around 20% for men but under 13% for women.

When all walking is taken into account, British women make 15% more walking trips than men, and on average walk 14.5km/9 miles more per year: 321.5km compared with 307km.

More people aged between 25-55 walk recreationally than those in other age groups. Walking is more likely to be maintained later in life than sport – sports participation drops from 16% in the 35-54 age group to 7.6% in over 55s.

White people are more likely to walk: 23% of white people walk for at least 30 minutes in four weeks but only 13.5% of non-white people. Participation in sports is roughly equal for white and non-white people at around 16.5%.

People in professional jobs are more likely to walk for recreation than those in lower paid work. Around 28% of professionals walk for at least 30 minutes in four weeks compared to only 14% of those in routine manual jobs. Those who have never worked and the long-term unemployed are slightly more likely to walk at 14.5%. Overall, however, people living in low income households are more likely to make walking trips than those in higher income households.

Walking trends

The popularity of leisure walking appears to be rising. The number of English adults walking recreationally for at least 30 minutes every month increased by 954,700 (around 10%) between 2006 and 2008.

Walking overall has declined but may be stabilising. Between 1986 and 2005, the average proportion of journeys on foot fell from 34% to 23%, a decrease of 32%. Total distance walked per person per year fell from 390km/244 miles in 1986 to around 320km/200 miles in 1995 and seems to have stabilised, with the average trip length going up slightly.

The proportion of trips between 1.6km/1 mile and 3.2km/2 miles has increased from 25% to 31% in the past ten years, suggesting people walk less often but take slightly longer journeys on foot.

Only 49% of primary school children and 44% of secondary school children regularly walk to school, though two thirds of children are now walking to school at least once a week.

In 1976 only 15% of children were driven to school, rising to to 41% in 2006.

At its peak around 08:45 on schooldays, the school run accounts for nearly two in ten (18%) car trips by residents of urban areas.

For a comprehensive summary of participation in walking, complete with full references, download our Walking Participation factsheet.