I must admit to being very pleasantly surprised by the substantial increase in the percentage of adults in Wales who have taken up sport or other physical activity in the last few years. The increase of 34% between 2008 and 2012 is quite remarkable, particularly because of the contrast to what is happening in neighbouring countries.
As people might expect, I wanted to look at these figures more closely. The full report from Sport Wales is entitled The State of the Nation – although I'd have thought A Nation Fit for Purpose might be a little snappier – and the figures are available in spreadsheet form here.
It probably won't be much of a surprise that younger adults participate in sport more than older adults, males participate more than females, and those in richer households participate more than those in poorer households. It is one of the sad realities of life that richer people tend to be more active, tend to eat more healthy food, tend to be less prone to illness, and as a result tend to live longer than those who are poorer. This is the main reason why we, as a society, need to do much more to narrow the scandalous gap between rich and poor.
However there were three other groups in which participation rates in sport showed a more unexpected difference.
First, those who identify themselves as Christians are much less involved in sport than those who have no religion or are agnostic. The sample size for other religions was probably too small to be reliable. I'd be interested in people's opinions on why this might be.
Second, those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual are much more involved in sport than those who are straight. I think this might be explained by fewer gay people tending to have children, and therefore having more money to spend on themselves and more time to get involved in sporting and leisure activities.
But the third group is people that speak Welsh, who for some reason are much more involved in sporting activity than those who don't speak Welsh. These are the percentages, with Welsh-speakers in bold:
No frequent activity ... 32.45% ... 42.83%
Once a week ... 12.08% ... 11.89%
Twice a week ... 9.83% ... 8.67%
Three or more times a week ... 45.63% ... 36.62%
Any participation in last four weeks ... 78.74% ... 67.58%
Sports club member ... 31.33% ... 25.50%
Volunteer in sport ... 15.09% ... 8.95%
In every single positive category there is a markedly greater percentage of Welsh-speakers than non-Welsh-speakers. I have spent the last few hours trying to figure out what would explain this. There doesn't seem to be any geographical basis for the difference.
There are studies (for example here) which show that Welsh-speakers are likely to be better educated, less likely to be unemployed and less likely to be in poor health ... factors which would clearly seem to be linked with earning some 8-10% more than non-Welsh-speakers. But this difference in earnings alone would not account for why Welsh-speakers are more involved in sport.
If we look at the tables in detail, the percentage of Welsh-speakers who participate in sporting activity three or more times a week (45.63%) is roughly equal to the participation of people in households with an income of £31,200 to £51,999 (46.99%), and the percentage of non-Welsh-speakers who participate in sporting activity three or more times a week (36.62%) is roughly equal to the participation of people in households with an income of £15,600 to £20,799 (36.37%) ... but Welsh-speakers obviously don't earn twice as much as non-Welsh-speakers.
This means that speaking Welsh, in and of itself, strongly correlates with being more physically active in a way that can't easily be explained by other factors.
As I said, I'm at a loss to figure out why this is so, and would welcome people's thoughts on the subject. But if you are someone who wants to be more physically active, it looks like one answer is to learn Welsh ... or perhaps it's the other way round: if you're struggling to learn Welsh, the key might be to become more physically active.