Introduction: Despite well-documented positive effects of physical activity on physical and mental health, the levels of activity in many countries remain very low. Activity has been shown to be related to age, education and other individual characteristics, but it is unclear if differences in distributions of these characteristics across countries are enough to explain the observed cross-country differences.
Aim: The paper examines the extent to which differences in the level of physical activity among European 50+ populations can be explained by differences in observed individual characteristics, and to which the differences between countries relate to unobserved factors and could thus be referred to as resulting from "activity habits".
Material and Methods: The analysis is based on the Survey of Health Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) for 13 countries of continental Europe. The sample includes 12,652 men and 15,007 aged 50 years and older. Linear probability models are used to correct for differences in the distribution of observable characteristics.
Results: From among the 13 analysed European populations aged 50+, the level of physical activity is highest in Switzerland among men and in the Netherlands among women, with the Polish population turning out to be the least active. Only 38% of Polish men and 29% of women declare ‘vigorous physical activity’ at least once a week compared to 68% of Swiss men and 67% of Dutch women. Cross-country differences become smaller once a number of individual characteristics are controlled for, but they cannot be explained without referring to country-specific "activity habits".
Conclusion: There are significant differences in the level of physical activity among European 50+ populations and their large proportion cannot be explained by differences in observed individual characteristics.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.