The number of people doing weekly physical exercise fell during the pandemic but a North East charity boss said there remained "positive signs" across the region where it had bucked national trends.

Clare Morley runs Rise, which works with local authorities in Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland to help people get active and remain so.

In reaction to Sport England's annual physical activity survey - which showed how the number of people doing less than half an hour of physical activity a week fell 1.9% between May 2020 and May 2021 - Clare said that while the nationally figures were worrying, locally the picture was more complex.

Go here for the latest coronavirus updates and breaking Covid-19 news

"The data is a bit of a mixed bag," she said. "Some of our areas have seen slight increases in terms of adults who are doing more physical activity, but there's also been some decline. Broadly it's at a similar level year-on-year to 2020.

"Locally we’re pleased to see that there are some positive signs. Overall, Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland all saw slight increases in the levels of adults who are physically active; and three out of our six Local Authority areas are either reporting equal or lower levels of inactive adults compared to pre-pandemic data, signalling some signs of a longer-term positive trend.

"There is also continuing evidence that if a person is active, they will feel happier, more satisfied with their life and more positive, as well as feeling less anxious and lonely."

Despite this progress, Clare said it was important not to let the numbers blind you to the difficulties some groups faced getting active.

She added: "Unfortunately our areas tend to sit just below the national average - and the thing to note is that sometimes statistics can hide the nuance. If you look at the groups who are not physically active enough, they are often suffering from other physical health issues."

Clare said it was also vital to consider how already-disadvantaged groups such as women and girls or minority communities were likely to be those hit hardest by a decline in physical activity - and she said this was because there were "often barriers in place".

The national figures highlight that "women, young people aged 16-34, over 75s, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, and those from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds" have all found it harder to exercise this year.

"There are many barriers and a complicated set of issues preventing people from being as active as they might be," Clare said. "We recognise that people are often on a continuum when it comes to physical exercise and for us the key focus is on the bottom end of that continuum.

"Walking and to some degree cycling are the easiest ways to begin to be physically active. Within that there are obviously issues around, for example, that you might not feel safe to be walking, or have access to green or blue spaces."

Clare highlighted some of the work the charity is currently doing - with woman who've recently given birth in Northumberland and North Tyneside, and with young men who are isolated in Berwick - which she hopes is playing a role in improving the situation.

She added that the key was to reducing inactivity was to incorporate exercise on a day-to-basis. She said: "We know that being physically active has so many positive benefits for people, communities and our environment. We will continue to work with our partners to create more opportunities for people to incorporate being active into their daily lives."

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has previously released guidance showing how two and a half hours of physical activity a week brings with it health benefits including lower risk of conditions such as type-2 diabetes.

Tim Hollingsworth chief exec of Sport England said the report highlighted how lockdown restrictions had "massively curtailed" the ability for people to exercise early in the pandemic.

He added that reopening had seen activity levels bounce back, but said: "What is more concerning is that certain groups – those who have historically found it more difficult to access activity – were disproportionately impacted. And we know that once habits are broken, they are often harder to restart."

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said the government had provided £1bn of financial support to the sport and leisure sector, and added: "These figures underline the fundamental role that sport and exercise play right across the country, supporting our physical and mental health, and bringing communities together.

"Now that it has reopened, we've been clear that physical activity will remain a vital part of our recovery plan. We want every child to have access to 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and adults to do at least 2.5 hours a week."

For the latest local news in your area direct to your inbox every day, go here to sign up to our free newsletter