Australians’ physical activity levels are low. Physical inactivity can also place a burden on the health system, and lead to premature death or disability from injuries such as falls. It is estimated to cost the Australian economy around $13 billion each year.
Research suggests over a third of the total burden of disease experienced by Australians may be prevented by modifying lifestyle risk factors such as increasing your level of physical activity.
If we are active, not only are we likely to reduce body fat, but reduce our risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, sport371 cardiovascular disease (CVD) and some cancers. Our overall mental health and wellbeing is also likely to improve.
The sedentary nature of our lifestyle can also lead to poorer health outcomes. Many of us are sitting or lying down for long periods such as spending time in front of a computer at work or driving to work or school. Also, a lot of our downtime is spent on electronic devices scrolling through social media, bingeing on our favourite programs or playing games. A recent survey found around 90% of Australian children have 10 hours or more screen time each week.
Recommended physical activity
Australians of all ages are not doing enough physical activity for optimal health. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend being active on most, if not all, days. It is also important to include muscle strengthening and toning (such as resistance training) as part of your routine:
Age group Physical activity Muscle strengthening
Adults (18-64 years) 150-300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity
75-150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity,
an equivalent combination of both each week At least 2 days each week
Adults (65 years and over) At least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days. Choose from different physical activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.
Children and young people (5-17 years) At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each day.
Several hours of light physical activity (such as going on a leisurely walk or standing up painting at an easel.) At least 3 days each week.
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Physical activity patterns of Australians
Although mostly preventable, over half of all Australian adults and a quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese. Many Australians have unhealthy eating habits, spend too much time sitting or lying down, use screen time as leisure and are not doing enough physical activity.
Research by AusPlay and the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s National Health Survey on the recommended guidelines for physical activity and sedentary behaviour show:
Around one fifth of Australian adults (18-64 years) meet the recommended guidelines – moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity and muscle strengthening and toning.
More than two thirds of adults do no strength-based activities.
Physical activity decreases with age – around a quarter of people over 65 years were physically active for 30 minutes, 5 days each week.
People living in disadvantaged areas are less likely to exercise and to meet the recommended guidelines.
Less than 1 in 50 (1.9%) 15–17-year-olds meet the recommended guidelines.
1 in 10 (10.3%) young people (15-17 years) exercised 60 minutes each day.
Young males (15-17-year-olds) were nearly three times more likely than young females to engage in 60 minutes of exercise every day and almost 2 ½ times more likely to do muscle strengthening activities 3 days or more.
Less than a quarter of teenagers (13-17 years) meet the recommended limit of 2 hours each day for sedentary screen-based behaviour.
Just over a quarter of children (5-12 years) meet the recommended guidelines.
Only 35% of children meet the recommended sedentary screen time limit of 2 hours each day – boys are less likely to meet this guideline.
Only 1 in 4 preschoolers (2-5 years) meet the limit for screen-based behaviour of no more than 1 hour each day in a 24-hour period.
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Popular adult sport and physical activity
Although we are not doing enough physical activity, the latest AusPlay survey shows 82.5% of Australian adults (over 15 years) did physical activity at least once a week. The most popular adult sports and activities are:
fitness or gym
running or athletics
football or soccer
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Popular children’s sport and physical activity
According to the latest participation research, over 60% of Australian children (5-14 years) were involved in organised activities (such as those through an organisation or at a specific venue) at least once a week. Children in this age group are more likely to be involved in sport-related and organised activities than other age groups.
Although rates of participation in physical activity are similar, girls are more likely to participate in non-sport types of activities than boys. Based on the latest AusPlay figures, popular activities for children (5-14 years) by gender include:
Girls (5-14 years) Boys (5-14 years)
dancing (recreational) soccer
netball Australian rules football
dance sport athletics (track and field)
athletics (track and field) rugby league
hockey rugby union
After the age of 14, young people are more likely to participate in non-organised physical activity.