Sport and health

There’s strong evidence that taking part in sport improves health, with associated economic benefits. 


Whatever our age, there is good scientific evidence that being physically active can help us lead healthier lives. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions.

Start Active, Stay Active outlines the relationship between physical activity and health and provides Chief Medical Officer guidelines for how active you need to be for general health benefits.

Making the case for physical activity

The British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity have produced a document summarising the best available evidence on health and wellbeing outcomes that are directly affected by physical activity.

We commissioned research into the costs of physical inactivity, which showed that NHS providers in England spent more than £900m in 2009/10 in treating people with diseases that could be prevented if more people were physically active.

We also commissioned a review of the research which identifies best practice for engaging inactive people.

Physical health and fitness

We collate and summarise research studies on this topic as part of our Value of Sport Monitor and a review of the evidence of the physical and health benefits of sport is available to download below.

Studies include a comprehensive US review which shows that people who are regularly active, even through moderate exercise, have lower mortality rates than the least active.

Another review, by the European Heart Network Expert Group on Physical Activity, shows that a sedentary lifestyle more than doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Read more about the individual research studies on this topic.

Psychological health and wellbeing

Participation in physical activity and sport has been shown to be effective for reducing:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • psychological distress
  • emotional disturbance

A review of research on this topic found that low-to-moderate physical exercise, even in a single session, can reduce anxiety.

Another year-long study concluded that increases in aerobic fitness have both short and long-term beneficial effects on psychological health.

Research also shows taking part in sport, and spectating, have a positive impact on the wellbeing and happiness of individuals.

Read a summary of the evidence available or review the details of studies on the topic in the Value of Sport Monitor.