Women led an unlikely global fitness boom in 2020 with large increases in the numbers running, cycling and walking during the pandemic, according to the world’s biggest online fitness platform.
Strava, which tracked more than 1.1bn activities uploaded by its 72m users over the past year, found the number of uploaded runs and cycle rides nearly doubled compared with the same period in 2019, while the number of walks recorded tripled year on year.
While some of this growth could be attributed to new users, Strava’s director of international marketing Simon Klima said the increase “was nothing like we’ve seen before and far surpassed our projections based on historical trends”. Much of it, he added, was down to women being more active. “We’ve seen a real boost from women in terms of overall activity levels during the pandemic year,” he said. “There could be several reasons for that but in the past our research has found that one of the biggest blocks for women to cycling is a perceived safety risk. But during the pandemic women perhaps felt safer to take to their bicycles, thanks to some temporary infrastructure improvements and quieter roads.”
Globally, the median number of activities uploaded by women to the platform rose by 45% year on year among those aged 18-29 and around 25% in other age categories. For men the rise was closer to just 10%.
The growth in women’s activity was particularly notable in Britain. According to Strava, which has nine million UK users – around 13% of the population – there was a 108% rise in the median number of activities by women in the 18-29 age group, and rises of between 52% and 65% in other age categories.
“As well as cycling, there’s also been a greater adoption of running, perhaps partly as an alternative for gym classes,” said Klima. “But working from home also gives some people freedom to be active during the day as they spend less time commuting to an office. It has allowed people to take control of their calendars a little bit more and to find more time for being active.”
When Strava compared the “moving time” of its users in 2020 it also showed an increase of 14.7%. “What’s also interesting with all this data is that the same people have been more active this year than in previous years on average,” Klima said.
According to Strava, Britons were also comparatively more active than other nations during lockdown, helped by less strict regulations on exercising outdoors compared with countries such as Italy, Spain and France, where there were huge drops in outdoor exercise levels between March and May.
Despite the lack of races and events like parkrun being suspended owing to Covid, Strava also found 55% of users hit a personal best in the 5km, 10km, half-marathon or marathon in 2020.
Its data also shows that the average distance per run in the UK is 5.5km and the average time is 33 mins and 47 secs – compared with global figures of 6.3km and 38:48.