The problem about attempting a scientific discussion of ‘physical activity levels – past and present’ is that factual information is limited. Data which are valid generally, and which will tell us how active people were 20, 50 or 100 years ago, what sort of activity they indulged in, how it was influenced by socio-economic class or by age, and how this has altered at the present day, do not exist.
An attempt can be made to analyse the changing nature of occupations as far as physical activity is concerned, and the reasons why people might be active can be dissected out. Is activity enforced by the nature of the occupation or is it a freely chosen component of our leisure time? Or, indeed, do both sometimes operate together?
Although the reasons why some people are active are not a basic consideration of this paper, they obviously affect the level of activity and need to be discussed, even somewhat superficially. A basic assumption might be held that physical activity is natural and is beneficial for physical and psychological health at all ages.
Some reasonably persuasive evidence can be produced that such a view more or less fits in with the facts.
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