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Sport participation at an all-time high in Singapore; gradual increase since pandemic

More Singapore residents are walking, swimming and doing circuit training than before, as results from the latest National Sports Participation Survey (NSPS) showed that regular participation in sport hit an all-time high in 2022.

The results released on Tuesday by national agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) found that 74 per cent of at least 4,500 respondents aged 13 and above took part in sporting activities at least once a week.

Also an all-time high since the Covid-19 pandemic, the figure was an increase of two percentage points from 2021. The participation rate for 2020 was 69 per cent, while the pre-Covid period of 2019 was at 66 per cent. In 2015, that figure was 54 per cent.

In terms of frequent participation, which is characterised by those who participate in sports at least twice a week, there was also an increase from 41 per cent in 2021 to 44 per cent the next year.

The NSPS is Singapore’s only annual national survey on sport and exercise participation among citizens and permanent residents aged 13 and above. Since 2015, it has been conducted via monthly interviews with a sample size of at least 4,500 participants.

SportSG chief executive officer Alan Goh said that while the pandemic had “skewed behaviour”, he is hopeful that the figure will continue to rise.

Speaking to media at an engagement session at the National Stadium on Tuesday, Mr Goh said: “We definitely don’t want it to drop. We saw a lot of participation increase during the pandemic because people had time and they wanted to just have access to facilities.

“We will want to see sports participation continue to be higher. I like to think that the more we push in this direction, there’ll be benefits to individuals and to our health care system, if people stay fit.”

The survey also showed that outdoor and “non-facility dependent activities” increased amid safe management measures during the pandemic, with more people taking part in walking, jogging and calisthenics – exercises that develop strength, endurance and flexibility using body weight. These activities remained the top three among the respondents, with cycling and swimming making up the five most popular sports.

Statistics from the survey also reflected the difference in popular activities by age group, with higher intensity sports like badminton, basketball and football featuring prominently for teens aged 13 to 19, while seniors aged 60 and above preferred lower intensity ones like walking and qigong.

Sports participation among the 1,000 children aged three to 12 also showed that overall, regular participation remained stable at 87 per cent in 2022 while frequent participation went up for those in pre and primary schools.

Over the years, SportSG has introduced various sports programmes and built several facilities to encourage more Singaporeans to lead a healthier lifestyle. In March 2022, it announced the $20 million Bring Sport Back plan aimed at reinvigorating sport participation through community runs and programmes, among other initiatives.

Last June, SportSG and the Health Promotion Board launched a revised set of the Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines that focused on encouraging people to do a variety of activities and be less sedentary. It set out a recommended target for adults to clock 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week.

With Singapore now treating Covid-19 as endemic, life has since returned to normal with many workers returning to their offices regularly. Mr Goh urged Singaporeans to continue to engage in physical activities, adding that SportSG will continue to do its part to help them play sport.

He said: “As we have reopened, people have quickly forgotten what it was like (during Covid-19). People are now going back to the office more even as we try to maintain the benefits of hybrid work.

“So my team will just want to continue pushing the limits to see how we can maintain or even increase this participation. Comparatively, we aren’t the best in the world. There are some other countries where there’s a culture of playing sports and being outdoors and we want to just try to hit that level as the next step.”

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