Research and Statistics

This page contains scientific evidence review reports and key facts and figures regarding physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Page last updated: 21 November 2017

Regular physical activity is an important contributor to good overall health, including promoting healthy weight and reducing chronic disease risk. However, the physical activity levels of many people, both in Australia and around the world, are less than the optimal level recommended to gain a health benefit. The World Health Organization attributes the trend toward physical inactivity to be due in part to insufficient participation in physical activity during leisure time, (recognised globally as participating in less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week), and to an increase in sedentary behaviour as part of the activities undertaken at work and at home.

Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (birth to 5 years): An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep

A review of the evidence relating to Australian physical activity guidelines for 0-5 years was conducted in 2017 leveraging off the revised Canadian Guidelines for this age group. The review aimed to incorporate Canada’s 24 hour movement approach, adopted by Canada in 2016 as part of their 5-17 year old Guideline review. A 24 hour movement paradigm emphasises the integration of all movement behaviours during a day, shifting the focus from individual components to emphasise the whole period including all physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep.

The revised Guidelines for the early years (birth -5 years) recognise the importance of adequate sleep and the importance this plays in a child’s development. There is more emphasis on management of screen time, hand held devices such as mobile phones and tablets, recommended time of use and the health impacts on children such as ‘blue screen’ and sleep is also included. The concept of minimising sedentary behaviour and breaking up long periods of sitting (independent of screen time) is also described.

The review considered the best available evidence, expert consensus, stakeholder consultation, and consideration of values and preferences, applicability, feasibility, resource use (cost) and equity.

Further details about the process used to conduct this review can be found at:
BMC Public Health

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines – Children, Adolescents and Adults

A review of the evidence relating to the Australian physical activity guidelines for children, adolescents and adults was conducted in 2012. The reviews considered the scientific research in relation to physical activity and sedentary behaviour to ensure that Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines are based on the best available evidence relating to:
  • the relationship between physical activity (including the amount, frequency, intensity and type of physical activity) and health outcome indicators, including the risk of chronic disease and obesity; and
  • the relationship between sedentary behaviour (sitting or lying down, except when sleeping) and health outcome indicators, including the risk of chronic disease and obesity.
A summary of the evidence to support these guidelines (PDF 500 KB) | HTML. More detailed reports can be accessed as follows.

Children and Young People

  • A Systematic Review to Update the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Young People (PDF 1490 KB) | (Word 462 KB)
  • A Systematic Review to Inform the Australian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Young People (PDF 1232 KB) | (Word 141 KB)

Adults

Older Australians

Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour…

Key Facts and Figures - Globally

  • Physical inactivity (low levels of physical activity) is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease (NCDs) worldwide (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers) – contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually (6% of deaths globally).
    • Source: Global Health Risks: mortality ad burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. World Health Organization, 2009.
  • One-third of chronic disease burden due to physical inactivity in Australia in 2011 was due to coronary heart disease (33.6%), followed by dementia (18% of total physical inactivity burden), diabetes (16%), bowel cancer (13%) and stroke (12%).
    • Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. Impact of physical inactivity as a risk factor for chronic conditions, Australian Burden of Disease Study. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no15. AIHW.
  • Australia’s cancer burden attributed to physical inactivity is 6.4%, which is only preceded by tobacco, high body mass and dietary risk factors.

Key Facts and Figures - In Australia

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released detailed results from the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey regarding the levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour of the Australian population.

Physical Activity

According to the latest AIHW report, Impact of physical inactivity as a risk factor for chronic disease: Australian Burden of Disease Study, released in November 2017:
  • 2.6% of the total disease burden in Australia was due to physical inactivity (using 2011 data)
  • If all Australians did an extra 15 minutes of brisk walking for at least five days each week, this would reduce disease burden due to physical inactivity in the population by approximately 13%, By increasing this to 30 minutes, the burden of disease attributed to physical inactivity could be reduced by 26%.
  • The seven diseases most closely linked to physical inactivity (in descending order) were diabetes, bowel and uterine cancer, dementia, breast cancer, coronary heart diseases and stroke.
  • The burden of physical inactivity increases with age, and is also higher among people from lower socioeconomic groups: People in the lowest socioeconomic group experienced rates of disease burden due to physical inactivity at 1.7 times that of the highest socioeconomic group. There was a clear pattern of decreasing burden with increasing socioeconomic position.
The National Health Survey 2014-15 indicates that:
  • 55.5% of 18-64 year olds participated in sufficient physical activity in the last week (more than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or more than 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both, including walking)
  • Nearly one in three (29.7%) 18-64 year olds were insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes in the last week) while 14.8% were inactive (no exercise in the last week). These were similar to proportions in 2011-12 (54.5%, 29.4% and 16.0% respectively).
The Australian Health Survey 2011-12 indicates that:
  • Only one-third of children, and one in ten young people undertook the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • 60% of Australian adults did less than the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day.

Sedentary Behaviour

The National Health Survey 2014-15 indicates that:
  • Nearly 30% of Australian adults engaged in low levels of physical activity (less than 150 minutes in the last week) while 14.8% were inactive (no exercise in the last week).
  • Similar proportions of males (15.2%) and females were considered inactive (14.4%).
The National Health Survey 2011-12 indicates that:
  • Fewer than one in three children and young people (5-17 year olds) met the “no more than 2 hours of screen-based entertainment” every day.
  • Nearly 70% of Australian adults (i.e. almost 12 million adults) are either sedentary or have low levels of physical activity.

Key Findings – National Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12

Children and Young People

  • In 2011-12, toddlers and pre-schoolers (aged 2–4 years) spent an average of around 6 hours per day engaged in physical activity. They also spent almost one and a half hours per day (83 minutes) in the sedentary activities of watching TV, DVDs or playing electronic games.
  • On average, children and young people aged 5–17 years spent one and a half hours (91 minutes) per day on physical activity and over two hours a day (136 minutes) in screen-based activity with physical activity decreasing and screen-based activity increasing as age increased.
  • Just under half (44%) of all children and young people (2–17 years) had at least one type of screen-based item (e.g. TV, computer, or game console) in their bedroom. For the 15–17 year olds, three-quarters had some kind of screen-based media in their bedroom and this was associated with them spending an extra two hours per week watching/playing screen-based media compared with those who did not have any such item in their bedroom.
  • The children and young people who participated in the pedometer study, recorded an average of 9,140 steps per day. Children aged 5–8 and 9–11 years were most likely to reach 12,000 steps per day (22% and 24% respectively), while 15–17 year olds were least likely (7%) to reach this number of steps.

Adults

  • The highest levels of physical activity were among the young adults with 53% of 18–24 year olds being classed as sufficiently active. Levels of physical activity tended to decline in older ages, with the lowest being among people aged 75 years and over, where the average time spent in physical activity was 20 minutes per day, and just one in four this age were classified as sufficiently active against the guidelines.
Levels of sufficient physical activity were associated with a range of factors:
    • Relative socioeconomic disadvantage: Adults in the least disadvantaged quintile were 1.5 times more likely to have done sufficient physical activity compared with those in the most disadvantaged quintile.
    • Health status: Adults who described their health as "excellent" were over twice as likely to have done sufficient physical activity compared with people with "poor" self-assessed health.
    • Body mass index (BMI): The underweight/normal weight population were 1.4 times more likely to have done sufficient physical activity compared with the obese population.
    • Smoking status: ex–smokers and people who never smoked were 1.2 times more likely to have done sufficient physical activity compared with current smokers.
    • Sedentary activity occupied an average 39 hours per week for adults, with close to 10 hours of this sitting at work. People employed in more sedentary occupations (such as clerical and administrative work) spent on average 22 hours a week sitting for work.
    • Watching TV was the most prevalent sedentary activity, at nearly 13 hours a week, peaking at over 19 hours per week on average for people aged 75 and over. Using the computer or Internet (for non-work purposes) peaked at almost 9 hours per week for 18–24 year olds.
    • The adults who participated in the pedometer study, recorded an average of 7,400 steps per day. Less than one in five adults (19%) recorded 10,000 steps per day on average.’
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013 - Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12. ABS Catalogue number 4364.0.55.004

Further details can be found on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website.