Major new survey highlights impact of cost-of-living crisis on mental and physical wellbeing

A new survey of 8,000 UK adults has found that the cost-of-living crisis has dealt a major blow to the nation's health, with the majority of British adults reporting that it has had a negative impact on their physical health (60%) and mental health (59%) in the past year.

Now in its third year, Nuffield Health’s Healthier Nation Index revealed when people were asked what they thought was having the biggest impact on the nation’s overall health, cost of living was having the most significant impact (63%), followed by lack of physical activity (46%) and lack of mental health support (38%).

Mental health

In the past year just over a third (34%) said their mental or emotional health had got worse, and a similar number (35%) said their physical health had got worse2. Those aged 35–54 feel most impacted, with 40% reporting a decline in mental health.


Two in five (40%) Brits said their sleep has worsened2, with nearly half (48%) stating their lack of sleep was having a negative impact1 on their mental health. On average, those surveyed are only getting 5 hours and 54 minutes of sleep a night; down from last year when Brits averaged 6 hours and 6 minutes. This means per week Brits are missing out on 84 minutes of sleep compared to last year, and are over an hour short of the NHS recommendation of 7 hours of sleep a night.

Data from this year’s Index also highlighted a link between annual salary and sleep, with the highest earners (£75,000+ PA) sleeping on average 6 hours, 25 minutes a night – over half an hour more than those earning the national average salary (£33,000)who get 5 hours, 51 minutes.

Food and drink

As well as this, the nation’s ability to eat healthily had also taken a hit, with almost half (47%) saying that healthy food was too expensive4 to cook at home, due to the cost of energy.

Physical health

Despite these trends, the new data from Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity, has also revealed a slight improvement in the levels of exercise nationwide for the first time since the survey began in 2020, with Brits spending just over an hour (61 mins) extra exercising each month compared to last year.

The nation is becoming more aware of the benefits of exercise for your mental health, with 32% of people saying they were motivated to exercise because it improves their mental health, up from 27% in 2022. A further 27% say that exercise lifts their mood and helps them feel less anxious or depressed, nearly half (48%) would go for a walk to boost their mental health and one in seven (14%) say they have taken up a sport or exercise to help their mental health.

Exercising outdoors tops the list of the most popular type of activity for boosting physical health, with 38% of Brits saying that is the main way they have exercised in the last year.

While this positive increase has meant more people are reaching the NHS’s recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, a worrying three-quarters of the population (76%, down from 81% in 2022) are still not achieving this, with the average Brit reaching just 79 minutes.


To combat this, Double Olympic Gold Champion, Dame Kelly Holmes, is partnering once more with Nuffield Health to extend the charity’s ‘Find 5’ campaign. Together, they are calling on the nation to spend five extra minutes a day focusing on their physical and mental wellbeing for body and mind.

Whether it’s spending five minutes less on your phone before bed, getting off the bus one stop early to get an extra five minutes of exercise, or swapping five items in your shopping basket for a healthier alternative, the charity wants to help everyone make small changes to help boost the nation’s wellbeing.

To help with this, the charity has launched a series of free-to-access articles and short videos to help people with easy ways to start exercising and fit it into everyday routines. For more information, please visit The Healthier Nation Index hub.

Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care at Nuffield Health, said: “The Healthier Nation Index has tracked the state of the nation’s health since 2020 and, as we move from a period of great uncertainty due to the pandemic, the follow-up cost-of-living crisis is having a profound impact on everyone.

“We are passionate about building a healthier nation and know that health is intrinsically connected; struggling with sleep, stress or eating habits can have a huge knock-on effect on all areas of your wellbeing.

“That’s why we’re calling on the nation to #Find5 minutes to look after your body and mind, as just five extra minutes of exercise a day can significantly boost mental and physical wellbeing, whether that’s going for a brisk walk, taking up gardening or carrying heavy shopping bags home.”

Dame Kelly Holmes, Nuffield Health Ambassador, said: “It’s encouraging to see in Nuffield Health’s latest Healthier Nation Index that exercise levels are on the up, however, the impact of major events such as the cost-of-living crisis on our health can’t be ignored.

“It’s so important that everyone not only knows how things like exercise and sleep can affect our wellbeing, but are also given the right tools to be able to make a change, and that’s why I urge everyone that might be struggling to get involved with this campaign and focus on small changes that could go a long way.

“I know how much moving more helps my mental health, and if everyone can find just five extra minutes a day then we’ll help put the nation on a healthier path.”

The #Find5 campaign is designed to help people proactively look after their wellbeing and kickstart the development of healthy habits. If you need help for a mental health crisis or emergency, you should get immediate expert advice and assessment.

  1. Combining ‘Significant impact’ and ‘Slight impact’ answer options
  2. Combining ‘Significantly worse’ and ‘Slightly worse’ answer options
  3. Respondents earning a salary between £25,001–£35,000
  4. Combining ‘Significant barrier’ and ‘Slight barrier’ answer options.

Last updated Tuesday 18 April 2023

First published on Tuesday 18 April 2023