About 32 percent of French people aged 15 and over regularly practice outdoor sports and leisure activities, mostly to improve their well-being and to be close to nature, according to the new French “Barometer of outdoor sports participation.”

The findings stem from a survey involving about 4,000 people from 15 to 70 and supported by the two leading French sports industry associations, Fifas for sports companies and FPS for sports retailers, along with the French ministry in charge of sports, the national organization for outdoor sports resources (PRNSN) and universities in Lyon and Brest.

The survey conducted in July by Institut BVA, a French polling organization, showed that about three quarters of respondents had taken part in at least one outdoor sports or leisure activity in the year prior to the survey, which would thus amount to 34.5 million people. Among them, the study suggests that about 14.5 million could be described as “regular” participants, equivalent to 32 percent of the population aged 15 and above. On average, participants take part in 78 outdoor activities per year – adding up to 2.7 billion sessions (which could be anything from a hike to an hour of stand-up paddling or an outdoor fitness course).

Hiking is the most practiced activity, with an extrapolated number of 15 million participants, ahead of cycling with 8.7 million (excluding mountain biking and BMX), and mountain biking at 7.4 million. Other popular activities include alpine skiing with 5.4 million participants and beach sports at 5.3 million. French participants apparently enjoy a variety of outdoor sports, 3.2 of them per year on average, and holidays are a particularly propitious time for them to try out new activities.

The study underlines the fact that well-being is the main motivation for French people to practice outdoor sports. About 81 percent of the respondents said they wanted to relax, another 78 percent want to be in contact with nature. The third most common motive, mentioned by 74 percent of the participants, is to remain healthy. This helps to explain the rise of activities such as tree climbing, practiced by 4.6 million people, Nordic walking with 2.6 million participants and outdoor fitness with 1.8 million. Stand-up paddling is also starting to register, with 1.1 million participants. As Fifas pointed out, these trends mark a shift away from competitive sports and towards activities that are more leisure and health-oriented.

The participants estimated that they spent an average of €160 per year on equipment, footwear and apparel for outdoor sports and leisure. The size of the market was thus estimated at €5.6 billion at retail level.

The survey was presented last month at Sport-Achat Nantes, a regional spin-off of the fair held in Lyon. The organizations behind the barometer said that the survey would support exchanges between the different protagonists in the area of outdoor sports and leisure activities, who often don't know each other. The exchanges could thus stimulate partnerships to raise participation and take advantage of resources efficiently.