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Quick Pulse: Exercise Around the World

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In a Quick Pulse analyst survey, Passport Survey asked individuals about their exercise habits: types of exercise, workout frequency, food and drink supplements, and finally, why they ultimately do or do not exercise.


In 2011, Euromonitor International began designing, executing and analysing its own surveys in order to expand its trusted global research. This is the first in a series of articles presenting the results of its Quick Pulse surveys. In Quick Pulse surveys, Passport Survey reaches out to Euromonitor's network of analysts in 80+ countries in order to find out more about current consumer attitudes and habits on a wide variety of topics, from economic outlook to daily activities.

Topic overview

Exercise-related results from the first Quick Pulse survey, conducted in November 2011, are presented in this report. Passport Survey asked analysts how often they exercise, what activities they do for exercise, what they eat or drink when they are being active, and finally, why they ultimately do or do not exercise.

The sample: Our global analyst network

Quick Pulse survey results differ from other survey data cited on Passport Survey (e. g., findings from the Annual Study or Global Youth) and should be interpreted with some caution. Quick Pulse responses reflect the opinions and habits of several hundred of Euromonitor International's in-country analysts around the world. As such, results reflect a great degree of geographic, economic, and cultural diversity among educated consumers. With response rates exceeding 70% in November, non-response bias is minimal. On the other hand, Euromonitor's analysts do not constitute a random sample of consumers in a given country or across the globe, so their responses do not necessarily represent the opinions of a broader population of consumers. Passport Survey presents their attitudes and behaviours in order to provide starting points for potential further investigations and sparks of tactical insight.

This article is one of many content types offered for free as part of an introduction to Passport Survey, alongside articles, visual applications and executive briefing presentations.


Exploring exercise activities and supporting behaviours

While medical experts tell us that exercise is vital to health, and many consumers agree (see Annual Study 2011: Healthy Living report), not everyone is as active as they are supposed to be to maintain proper health – as evidenced by everything from rising obesity rates to the growing prevalence of heart disease in previously unaffected areas. At the same time, the sports nutrition market is booming as it expands beyond its original young, male consumer base to other active individuals; similarly, sports equipment and clothing sales have grown significantly in the last five years. And as healthcare costs rise, companies and governments are experimenting with new strategies to encourage their constituents to be more physically active.

In order to find out more about the current state of exercise habits and motivations around the world, Passport Survey reached out via Quick Pulse survey to its analysts in 80+ countries and asked them how often they exercise, what activities they do for exercise, what they eat or drink when they are being active, and finally, why they ultimately do or do not exercise. Two hundred and five shared their thoughts in November 2011; they are presented in detail below.

Exercising regularly requires only a little — and a lot

Respondents to the November 2011 Quick Pulse survey make it clear that exercise does not necessarily involve a gym membership and special equipment. Most are content to walk, jog, run, or dance, which require minimal supporting apparatus. Others swim or cycle, but even these can be low-maintenance activities. Water, fruit, and one's regular meal are all the sustenance that most respondents rely on before, during, and after exercise. The most complex part of exercising seems to be not acquiring the right gear or supplements, but rather finding the time and motivation to be physically active. Respondents who do exercise seek to maintain their health, but more immediately, they want to keep their minds and bodies in good shape.

Walking and rolling

Walking, swimming and jogging are, by far, the most common forms of exercise, followed by shaking it on the dance floor. Music and exercise popped up in other unique responses, as highlighted below.

When they exercise, respondents are, overwhelming, putting one foot in front of the other. Almost three-fifths of respondents say they walk or power-walk at least once a month (59%; most simply walk, though 10% engage in both types). Another one-third like to jog or run (35%). Other respondents prefer to put both feet and hands forward: 36% say they swim at least once a month. Together, these three activities account for 62% of respondents' usual exercise routines. Rounding out the top five are dancing and outdoor cycling. More than one in four respondents go dancing at least once a month (26%), and more than one in five regularly bicycle outside (21%).

Most Popular Exercise Activities

% participating in the previous month



Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey – Quick Pulse; November 2011

Outdoor cycling proves almost twice as popular as indoor cycling (21% vs. 12%), but walking (inside or out) is more than five times as popular as outdoor hiking (58% vs. 11%).   Other activities with a sizeable proportion of regular adherents include weight training (18%), yoga (16%), tennis/badminton (13%), football (a.k.a. soccer; 11%), and Pilates (10%). Interestingly, two respondents felt so strongly that their piano practice constituted exercise that they wrote it in as an additional activity.

These results largely echo previous exercise patterns of consumers around the world. Soccer, swimming, athletics/jogging, cycling, and badminton made up the top five activities in 2007 for consumers in 16 countries.

Keeping it moving

A majority of our sample works out at least three times per week and most prefer to do so on weekdays. Regular exercisers most commonly put in more than 45 minutes during one of these sessions. On weekends, respondents either exercise longer or do not exercise at all.

Overall, 54% of respondents say they exercise at least three days per week. Of these active individuals, most typically exercise three (26%) or four (13%) days a week. Among less active individuals, 27% exercise twice a week and 14% do so only one day a week. Only one in twenty respondents said they do not normally exercise at all in a normal week (5%).

Of those who do exercise on a weekly basis, almost all exercise on workdays (97%).   Less than one-third exercise for 30 minutes or less (29%); the biggest proportion of respondents is active for 31-60 minutes (48%). Those who exercised for longer than one hour did not do so for long: only 10% sweated for more than 75 minutes on a given workday. On average, respondents exercise for 44 minutes on workdays. More frequent exercisers also work out for longer: 48+ minutes is usual for those who exercise 3+ days per week versus 38 minutes for those who typically exercise one or two days per week.

On non-workdays, people tend to dedicate more time to exercise. Only one in five exercise for 30 minutes or less (21%), while two in five keep moving for 31-60 minutes (39%). Another fifth are weekend warriors, exercising for 76 to more than 120 minutes (20%). On average, respondents exercise for 51 minutes on non-workdays, with both more and less frequent exercisers committing to a longer workout: at least 50 minutes, compared to 44 minutes on weekdays. That said, non-work days also observe more people not exercising at all (8%), preferring to spend their leisure time on other activities.

Minutes of Exercise on Work and Non-Work Days

% selecting each time frame


Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey – Quick Pulse; November 2011

Water and fruit are the most popular supplements

Almost all respondents drink water before, during, and/or after exercise (96%). After water, fruit juice and coffee/tea are tied for second-most popular drinks – but with only one third of respondents consuming either for their workout –, these two drinks are far from common. Energy drinks with vitamins and without caffeine take up the third spot, with 25% consumption. Other exercise-specific beverages, such as protein shakes and energy drinks with caffeine, are even less popular among respondents: fewer than 13% drink these when they exercise. The sports nutrition market may be expanding, but many respondents remain unconvinced of the benefits of any drink other than water.

In general, respondents tend to drink liquids after exercising, rather than during or before. More than four in five respondents drink water after exercising (83%). Fruit juice (26%), coffee / tea (19%), and energy drinks with vitamins and without caffeine (18%) are also popular post-workout drinks. During exercise, respondents tend not to drink anything other than water (64%) during exercise (energy drinks with vitamins and without caffeine are a distant second favourite (9%). Before exercising, many but not all respondents load up on water (57%). Coffee/tea and fruit juice are preferred by a minority (20% and 12%, respectively).

Most Popular Food and Drink Exercise Supplements

Top #1 and #2, ranked according to % selecting before, during, or after exercise


Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey – Quick Pulse; November 2011

When it comes to fuelling up on food for exercise, no one food is as popular as water, but fruit comes closest. Three-fifths of respondents say they eat fruit before, during and/or after exercise (60%).  No other specialty meal supplement is near that level of popularity, but three-fifths of respondents say they eat a regular meal either before or after exercise (typically after) (60%). Dairy and meat or eggs are also go-to fuels for more than one-third of respondents (39% and 36%, respectively).

Respondents tend to eat either before or after exercise, not during – unless it's a protein bar (8%). Before exercising, respondents tend to eat fruit (30%) or a regular meal (26%). After a workout, respondents similarly prefer to eat a regular meal (52%) or fruit (38%). Meat or eggs, dairy, and vegetables are also common post-workout foods for 21-27% of respondents. Somewhat surprisingly, respondents are as likely to eat an energy/protein bar (17%) as they are sugary food (e. g., candy, cookies) sometime before, during, or after exercise. As with drinks, sports nutrition food products have made some in-roads for workout supplementation, but most respondents currently prefer non-specialty replenishment.

Most and Least Popular Food and Drink Exercise Supplements

Ranked according to % selecting before, during, or after exercise


Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey – Quick Pulse; November 2011

Exercise takes time, but wards off extra weight and attracts others

In open-ended comments, respondents shared their reasons for exercising – or not. Not having enough time was the main reason cited for not exercising enough. Lack of motivation – either lack of enjoyment or low energy—and lack of exercise partners – were also mentioned multiple times. A few respondents also said they felt it was not safe to exercise outside or was unhealthy, due to pollution. It appears that getting regular exercise is often at the mercy of other external pressures.

Among those who do exercise, the post-workout benefits far outweighed enjoyment of the activity itself as a motivational force. Maintaining a toned physique was paramount for many; slimming an overly large one was also a common theme. Many respondents said that exercising made them feel better over the course of a day: more energetic, less stressed, brighter mood. Some exercise because they want to sleep better, while others want to better attract a romantic partner. Finally, most respondents mentioned wanting to remain healthy in general: a state not nurtured by sitting all day at work.

Although not asked directly, respondents shared a few potential insights for how to exercise as much as experts advise. Several respondents mentioned incorporating exercise into their daily schedules, either as part of their commute, as an unassailable part of the workday routine, or simply as “a way of life.” Incorporating nature into workouts also inspired a few to get moving (often through outdoor cycling; see above). For a few, exercise is a highly social activity, providing bonding with co-workers or a time to catch up with friends. Largely, though, respondents use the promise of post-workout benefits to push themselves to exercise in the first place.

Effort but not equipment, with highly motivational post-workout rewards

As predicted in Euromonitor International's “Top 10 Consumer Trends for 2011” article, wellness is holistic yet vanity persists. To maintain their health, respondents try to exercise at least a few days a week. They tend to keep their workouts simple, requiring minimal equipment or food and drink supplements. In return for their exertion, they feel they get a clearer, less stressed mind and, last but by no means least, a better-looking body.


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