Malta has registered the largest drop in Europe in the number of people who “never” exercise, fresh EU data shows.

Despite this, the island continues to have the highest rate of individuals who “seldom” do any sports or physical activity.

The European Commission’s latest Eurobarometer survey on physical activity and sports, conducted across the bloc between April and May, highlights a couple of significant improvements for Malta when compared to rates from 2017, when the last review was carried out.

Respondents had four options to characterise how often they exercise: never; seldom; with some regularity; and regularly.

Half of the respondents in Malta cited a lack of free time as the reason behind their lack of exercise.

For the survey, exercise is defined as any form of physical activity in a sport context such as swimming, training in a fitness centre or running.

According to the latest figures, 31 per cent of those surveyed in Malta said they “never” exercise or practise sport.

The figure is among the lowest in Europe – 25 percentage points lower than in 2017 and the biggest drop registered by any member state since that time.

Still, more than a third of those surveyed in April and May said they “seldom” exercise or play sports.

This is the highest rate of all member states.

Only a quarter of those surveyed said they do exercise “with some regularity” and just seven per cent described doing some form of physical sport as “regular”.

However, another improvement for Malta was in “vigorous activity”, such as lifting heavy things, digging, aerobics or fast cycling. While nearly a third said they never engage in such activities, this was 26 percentage points lower than in 2017.

Fifty-seven per cent do this sort of vigorous physical activity between one and three days a week and the rate dropped to 15 per cent for those who do such activities four to five days a week.

Why exercise?

Asked why they do sports or engage in physical activity, 37 per cent of the respondents said they do so to “improve fitness” as well as to “control weight”.

Nine per cent of respondents also said it was to better integrate in society. Of the member states included in the survey, the Maltese were found to be the most likely to use sports and physical activity as a way to socialise, it emerged.

Meanwhile, half of the respondents in Malta cited a lack of free time as the reason behind their lack of exercise. At 49 per cent, Malta’s rate was the second highest in Europe, with only Cyprus more frequently registering this reason for not fitting sport into people’s daily lives.

Malta has long struggled with low physical activity rates and high obesity rates and, despite efforts to address the issue, the island often tops international league tables for excessive weight.

In May, a WHO report ranked Malta second among 53 countries for obesity and overweight adults.

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