Physical activity

1. Key messages

In Belgium, only 62.5% of adults (aged 18-64) are ‘at least minimally active’. Men are more physically active than women. The proportion of active adults is decreasing with age. Residents of the Walloon Region are less physically active than in the other regions, while women are more active in Brussels. There is no important socioeconomic disparity in the proportion of people that are at least minimally active.
The proportion of people practicing enough physical activity to have a positive impact on health is very low, reaching only 29% of the adult population (aged 18-64). Men practice twice as much health-enhancing physical activity as women. Regional differences are small in this domain, with a slightly lower level of health-enhancing physical activity in Wallonia. No clear evolution was observed over time.

2. Background

Lack of physical activity is one of the leading risk factor in terms of morbidity and mortality for a series of chronic conditions, like cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. Moreover, regular physical activity, when reaching a certain threshold, can have significant benefits for health (“Health-enhancing physical activity”). In Belgium, the recommendations are usually to devote at least 30 minutes to moderate or intense physical activity at least 5 times a week, or to walk 10,000 steps a day [2].

To date there is no consensus on the method for estimating levels of physical activity based on self-reported surveys: the use of different instruments and moreover, of different cut-off points for classifying the levels of activity make it very difficult to compare results within and between countries. In the Belgian Health Interview Survey (HIS), physical activity is measured with the short version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) [1]; the questions include all types of activities and measure their intensity. In the 2014 wave of the European HIS another questionnaire (EHISPAQ) was used; consequently, the comparison of the results in Belgium with the other EU member states is not available up to now.

In this report, we used the indicators as defined by IPAQ and calculated the values from the HIS survey data:

3. Proportion of people with at least a minimal physical activity

Belgium

In Belgium, men are more physically active than women: in 2013, the prevalence of being “at least minimally active” was 69% among men and 56% among women. In other words, 31% of the men and 44% of the women can be considered to be insufficiently active.

  • Men
  • Women

Proportion of male adults (18–64) minimally active and with health-enhancing physical activity level*, by year, 2001–2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001–2013 [3]
(*) The sum of people minimally active and people with health-enhancing physical activity corresponds to the people “at least minimally active”.

Proportion of female adults (18–64) minimally active and with health-enhancing physical activity level*, by year, 2001–2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001–2013 [3]
(*) The sum of people minimally active and people with health-enhancing physical activity corresponds to the people “at least minimally active”.

The proportion of people that are at least minimally active did not change much over the period 2001–2013.

For both sexes, the proportion of people with at least minimal physical activity gets lower with age:

  • It is decreasing from 85% of the 18–24 to 61% at the age of 55–64 years among men
  • It is decreasing from 70% of the 18–24 to 43% at the age of 55–64 years among women (we see here however an exception for women aged 45–54 for which there is a slight increase).
Proportion of adults (18–64) at least minimally physically active, by sex and age group, 2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2013 [3]

Trends and regional disparities

For Belgium as a whole, the proportion of men physically active slightly increased over time after a small decrease in 2004. In women, no important change was observed at Belgian level.

In 2013, the proportion of men at least minimally active was significantly higher in Brussels (74%) and in Flanders (73%) than in Wallonia (61%). In women, the regional disparities were still more pronounced with a significantly higher proportion of women at least minimally active in Brussels (71%) and Flanders (60%) than in Wallonia (46%).

Since the HIS2001, people have been more physically active in Brussels than in the other regions, and this in particular for women. The proportion of people at least minimally active has decreased over time in Wallonia regardless of gender, while it has increased in the other regions. The proportion of men at least minimally active was the lowest in Flanders in 2001 and 2004; it has however increased dramatically since then and reached the Brussels’ level in 2008. Among women, the regional differences remained quite stable over time.

  • Men
  • Women

Proportion of male adults (18–64) at least minimally physically active, by year and region, 2001–2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001–2013 [3]

Proportion of female adults (18–64) at least minimally physically active, by year and region, 2001–2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001–2013 [3]

Disparities by educational level

In contrast to many risk factors for health, no clear gradient was observed for the practice of physical activity, for both sexes.

Prevalence of active adults, by sex and level of education, 2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2013 [3]

4. Proportion of people with a health-enhancing physical activity

Belgium

In Belgium, 29% of the population are practicing physical activity enough to have a health-enhancing effect (HEPA). Men have twice as often health-enhancing physical activity (39%) than women (21%) in 2013 (sex ratio of 1.9).

The proportion of men practicing HEPA stayed a bit under 40% during the whole period 2001–2013. Among women this proportion has decreased significantly between 2001 (29%) and 2013 (21%).

Trends and regional disparities

In 2013, the proportion of men having HEPA was similar in the 3 regions, slightly below 40%, while the proportion of women was higher in Brussels (25%) and Flanders (22%) than in Wallonia (17%).

In men, the proportion of men practicing HEPA tends to converge in the three regions, resulting in 2013 in a similar level of HEPA. In women, on the contrary, the regional differences tend to be more pronounced in 2013 than in the previous years.

  • Men
  • Women

Proportion of male adults (18–64) having health-enhancing physical activity, by region of residence and year, 2001–2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001–2013 [3]

Proportion of female adults (18–64) having health-enhancing physical activity, by region of residence and year, 2001–2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001–2013 [3]

The sex ratio for HEPA in Wallonia (2.2) was the highest of the three regions, meaning that the difference between men and women was the most pronounced. Inversely, the sex ratio in Brussels (1.5) was the lowest one.

Sex ratio (men/women) of adult (18-64) having health-enhancing physical activity, by region of residence, 2013
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2013 [3]

Disparities by educational level

The usual socio-economic gradient is not observed for HEPA. Only among men with secondary education, the proportion of men practicing HEPA tends to be higher, but the difference is not significant.

The proportion of women practicing HEPA is similar and around 18% in all educational levels.

Proportion of adults (18–64) having health-enhancing physical activity, by sex and level of education, 2013, Belgium
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2013 [3]

5. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

Definitions

Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET)
Metabolic Equivalent of Task are commonly used to express the intensity of physical activities. MET is the ratio of a person's working metabolic rate relative to their resting metabolic rate. It is measuring the amount of energy consumed according to the type practiced sport and the speed adopted. Multiply this MET value by the number of minutes during of which the activity has been practiced, the number of MET-minutes is obtained.
Prevalence of people being at least minimally active
According to the IPAQ threshold, the prevalence of people being at least minimally active is the percentage of people who meet any one of the following 3 criteria:
• 3 or more days of vigorous activity of at least 20 minutes per day OR
• 5 or more days of moderate-intensity activity or walking of at least 30 minutes per day OR
• 5 or more days of any combination of walking, moderate-intensity or vigorous intensity activities achieving a minimum of at least 600 MET-min/week.
Prevalence of people having health-enhancing physical activity
According to the IPAQ threshold, the prevalence of people having health-enhancing physical activity is the percentage of people who meet any one of the following 2 criteria:
• Vigorous-intensity activity on at least 3 days and accumulating at least 1500 MET-minutes/week
• 7 or more days of any combination of walking, moderate-intensity or vigorous intensity activities achieving a minimum of at least 3000 MET-minutes/week

References

  1. International Physical Activity Questionnaire. www.ipaq.ki.se
  2. Vlaamse Instituut voor Gezond Leven. https://www.gezondleven.be/projecten/10-000-stappen
  3. Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001-2013. https://his.wiv-isp.be/FR/SitePages/Accueil.aspx
  4. Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET). http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/physical_activity_intensity/en/
  5. IPAQ threshold. https://sites.google.com/site/theipaq/scoring-protocol