Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains information in response to frequently asked questions regarding physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Page last updated: 17 February 2014


Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers (0-5 Years)

Children (5-12 Years) and Young People (13-17 Years)

Adults (18-64 Years) and Older Australians (65 Years and Older)

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How much physical activity are Australians doing?

The Australian Health Survey 2011-12 indicates that only one in three children and one in ten young people undertook the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day1. In addition, just under one-third of children and young people (29%) met the recommended “no more than two hours a day” of electronic media use for entertainment1.

Furthermore in 2011-12, 60% of Australian adults did less than the previously recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day1. Findings from the Australian Health Survey 2011-12 also indicate that on average, adults spent 39 hours per week, of which approximately 10 hours was at work and 29 hours was for leisure (including transport), doing sedentary activities (i.e. sitting or lying down for various activities)1.

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013. Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12. ABS Cat. No. 4364.0.55.004. Canberra: ABS.

How much physical activity do I need to do?

The amount, type and intensity of physical activity that you need to do, depends on a number of factors, including your age and physical development. The Australian Government has produced a series of guidelines to help facilitate positive health outcomes for Australians of all ages.

If you are new to physical activity, have a health problem, or are concerned about the safety of being (more) active, speak with your doctor or health professional about the most suitable activities for you.

Are Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines the same for everybody?

No. There are different guidelines for different age groups. The Australian Government has produced a series of physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for Australians of all ages.

How were the Guidelines developed?

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines are supported by a rigorous evidence review process that considered the relationships between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health outcome indicators. The Evidence Review Reports provide a summary of the evidence used to inform the development of the Guidelines.

In addition, a consultation process was undertaken with relevant stakeholders, state government representatives, and national and international experts to further inform the development of the Guidelines.

What is ‘physical activity’?

Physical activity is any activity that gets your body moving, makes your breathing become quicker, and your heart beat faster. Physical activity can be in many different forms and at different levels of intensity.

What’s the difference between ‘moderate intensity’ and ‘vigorous intensity’ physical activity?

Moderate intensity physical activity requires some effort, but still allows you to speak easily while undertaking the activity. Examples include active play, brisk walking, recreational swimming, dancing, social tennis, or riding a bike or scooter.

Vigorous intensity physical activity requires more effort and makes you breathe harder and faster (“huff and puff”). Examples include running, fast cycling, many organised sports or tasks that involve lifting, carrying or digging.

Does being physically active mean I have to play sport?

Sport can be a great way to include physical activity in your life, but you can still be physically active, even if you don’t play sport.

There are many different ways to be physically active every day. Using active modes of travel, like walking, riding a bike or skateboard, or using the stairs instead of a lift or escalator, are all simple ways of building physical activity into your day.
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It is important to remember that physical activity does not have to be organised or competitive to be beneficial. Physical activity, both on your own, or with family and friends, can be fun and have many health and social benefits.

Is it dangerous to do too much physical activity?

If you are new to physical activity, trying out a new activity, or are concerned about the safety of being more active, you should speak with your health professional for advice.

I’m already busy. How can I fit physical activity into my day?

Making physical activity a part of your daily routine is possible and can have many benefits. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines include tips and ideas for how to fit more activity into your day to day life. Ideas such as using active modes of travel like walking, riding a bike or skateboard safely, using stairs instead of a lift or escalator, or hosting active social gatherings are simple ways of building physical activity into your day.

What is meant by the term ‘sedentary’?

“Sedentary behaviour” refers to sitting or lying down (except for when you are sleeping).

For infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers, sedentary behaviour can include sitting (restrained) in a car seat, stroller, high-chair, or even in a bike seat. Young children should not be sedentary, restrained or kept inactive, for more than one hour at a time, except when they are sleeping.

For children, young people, adults and older Australians, sedentary behaviour can include: sitting down using a computer or other electronic devices for work, study or leisure; or sitting or lying down while watching TV or DVDs, playing electronic games, when travelling or reading a book.

Is being sedentary the same as being physically inactive?

No. Being ‘physically inactive’ means not doing enough physical activity (in other words, not meeting the physical activity guidelines). However, being ‘sedentary’ means sitting or lying down for long periods.

So, a person can do enough physical activity to meet the guidelines and still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day sitting or lying down at work, at home, for study, for travel or during their leisure time.

Why should I limit my sedentary behaviour?

Sedentary behaviour, characterised by sitting or lying down (except when sleeping), is associated with poorer health outcomes, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

There is currently not enough evidence to make a recommendation on the specific duration of sitting or lying down that is associated with poorer health outcomes. However, it is recommended to break up time spent sitting or lying down, as often as possible.

The emerging evidence suggests that the negative effects of sitting for long periods each day may occur even in those people who participate in enough physical activity to meet the guidelines.

What if I have a disability?

Being physically active every day by participating in activities that are suitable for individual needs and abilities, is important for all Australians. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recognise that the benefits of being physically active can be achieved through participation in a variety of moderate to vigorous intensity activities to suit individual needs.
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If you have a disability, are new to physical activity, or are concerned about the safety of being more active or trying a new activity, you should speak with your health professional for advice.

What if I’m pregnant?

It’s important to keep healthy while you are pregnant. Try to do some physical activity every day. Accumulating 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week is recommended, but check with your health professional regarding the best form of activity for you.

Take care with vigorous intensity physical activity by checking with your doctor or health professional first.

Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers (0-5 Years)

What is ‘physical activity’ for young children?

Physical activity for young children primarily occurs through unstructured, active play. It also includes walking to places and more structured activities such as water familiarisation, dance and gymnastics programs.

Physical activity for Infants (first 12 months of life):
  • Activity or movement in the first 6 months of life includes reaching for and grasping objects, turning the head toward stimuli, and movement of the arms and legs whilst lying on the stomach (‘tummy-time’).
  • The second six months of life are characterised by learning basic movement skills such as crawling, pulling up to a standing position, creeping whilst using an object for support, and finally, walking.
Physical activity for Toddlers (1 – 3 years of age):
  • Physical activity for toddlers is characterised by active play and learning locomotor skills including walking, running, jumping, hopping, galloping and skipping.
  • Activity may include stability skills, including balancing and climbing. Toddlers also experiment with object control skills such as kicking, catching, throwing, striking, and rolling.
  • Structured activities such as water familiarisation, dance and gymnastics based programs may also provide valuable opportunities for toddlers to be active.
Physical activity for Pre-schoolers (3 – 5 years of age):
  • Further development of locomotor, stability and object-control skills occurs during this period. It is important to provide preschoolers with opportunities to practice these skills, and to give feedback and encouragement.

Why should young children be encouraged to be physically active?

Being physically active can help young children to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It can also help children to develop strong bones and muscles, as well as movement patterns and motor skills.

Physical activity can provide opportunities for young children to interact with others, make friends and develop social skills.

Encouraging kids to be active when they are young can establish healthy habits that can stay with them throughout their life.

How can parents and carers encourage children to be more physically active?

As important role models, the involvement of parents and carers in physical activity with their children, can help foster a child’s participation in, and enjoyment of, physical activity and play. Encouraging children to be active, and being active with children as often as possible, can also benefit parents and carers’ own health and may assist them to meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity for adults.
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It is important to allow children the freedom to create, imagine and direct their own play, and to undertake activities that encourage independence and appropriate risk taking (e.g. walking along a low wall), while maintaining a safe and supervised environment. To further promote physical activity, parents and carers should consider choosing child-care providers who promote physical activity and have adequate space and equipment.

Does the recommended 3 hours of physical activity for 1-5 year olds need to be of a particular intensity?

No. The recommended 3 hours of physical activity per day can include light intensity activity such as standing up, moving around and playing, as well as more vigorous activity such as energetic play.

Typical physical activity patterns of young children are characterised by short intense bursts of activity broken up by periods of rest or low intensity activity. The recommended 3 hours should be accumulated throughout the day, rather than all at once.

Rather than intensity, it is the amount and the nature of the physical activity that is important. Physical activity for young children should be fun; should encourage exploration and guided-discovery, and should be focused on active play.
  • Light Activity includes a wide range of activities like standing up and moving around, walking at a slow pace and less energetic play.
  • Moderate Activity is similar in intensity to a brisk walk, and could include a whole range of activities like playing at the park, any sort of active play or riding a bike.
  • Vigorous Activity will make kids “huff and puff” and includes running, jumping, skipping and may include more organised activities like dance and gymnastics programs. Any sort of active play will usually include bursts of vigorous activity.

What about physical activity for young children with a disability?

All children should be encouraged to be active whatever their level of ability.

Advice should be sought from health care providers to identify the types and amounts of physical activity that are appropriate for young children with a disability.

Where can children be physically active?

Children can be encouraged to explore and play in both indoor and outdoor environments with access to space and equipment that is suitable and safe. Outdoor settings provide lots of opportunities for physical activity. However, many activities, such as moving to music, dress-ups, playing with balloons, games like hide-and-seek and obstacle courses can also be undertaken in either restricted outdoor environments (eg. verandas and yards) or indoors.

Why is it recommended that children under 2 years should not watch any TV (i.e. no screen-time for under 2 year olds)?

A variety of TV programs have been created for children under 2 years, however it is questionable whether TV enhances development in the first two years of life.

There is some evidence indicating that TV watched in the first 2 years of life may be associated with delays in language development. A study conducted with children aged 15-48 months found that children who started watching TV under the age of 1 year, for more than 2 hours per day, were approximately six times more likely to develop language delays2.

Research has also found that the distraction of background television can interfere with children playing and interacting with family members and others, which are important for language development2,3.

In addition, research has found that each hour of daily TV watched by children under the age of 3 years is associated with poorer reading and intelligence3, and that greater amounts of TV viewing as an infant is related to an increased likelihood of attention problems at age seven3.
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Perhaps the most important factor for parents and carers to consider is the undeniable benefits associated with children participating in active play and interacting with others. Through play and interaction, young children learn valuable movement and communication skills.

2. Chonchaiya W, Pruksananonda C. Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta Paediatricia 2008; 97:977-982.
3. Christakis DA. The effects of media usage: what do we know and what should we learn? Acta Paediatrica 2009; 98:8-16.

What are some alternatives to TV when children need some “down-time”?

It is recognised that there are times when children need to play quietly and have some “down-time”, particularly before bed or when they are unwell.Some “down-time” activities that can encourage interaction and assist in the development of fine motor skills are:
  • reading or looking at books;
  • drawing or colouring in;
  • building with blocks or lego;
  • playing with playdough or clay; and
  • doing a jigsaw puzzle.

Why are baby walkers and jumpers not recommended for young children?

Baby walkers can be dangerous as they allow infants to move more quickly around the house and reach hazards such as stairs, fireplaces or dangerous objects before a parent/carer realises. There is also a risk of injury due to falls 4.

Rather than helping infants learn to walk, baby walkers and jumpers tend to reduce the time that infants spend on the floor which is an important step toward independent walking. Floor time allows infants to roll, crawl and creep, and eventually progress to pulling themselves into a sitting and then standing position. These are all important pre-walking skills that infants need to be encouraged to develop 4.

4. Australian Physiotherapy Association (2007): Baby walkers [Available at (This website link was valid at the time of submission) Accessed 22 July2010].

Why is competitive sport not recommended for 0-5 year olds?

The official, rule-based environment of competitive sport is not considered suitable for young children5. Instead, the emphasis for this age group needs to be on enjoyment, play and opportunities to learn basic movement skills like walking, jumping, running, throwing, catching and kicking in a non-competitive environment.

The skills that young children develop through active play form the basic building blocks for more specific skill development that may be used in sporting activities in the future. Interactive play also assists in the development of important social skills and a positive attitude and enjoyment of physical activity.

5. Côté J. Junior Sport Framework Briefing Paper - Opportunities and Pathways for Beginners to Elite to Ensure Optimum and Lifelong Involvement in Sport, Australian Sports Commission, December 2006.

Children (5-12 Years) and Young People (13-17 Years)

Why does the recommended amount of physical activity per day drop from 3 hours for 1-5 year olds, to 60 minutes per day for 5–12 year olds?

The 3 hours of physical activity recommended for 1-5 year old children who have not started school, includes light intensity activity, through to moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. The 60 minute recommendation for older children who have started school, only includes moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity.

In addition, it is generally recognised that physical activity levels are likely to decline when children start school. For this reason it is important that before young children start school, they are participating in substantially more physically activity per day than what is recommended for 5-12 year old children who are at school.
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Adults (18-64 Years) and Olders Australians (65 Years and Older)

How much physical activity do I need to do to prevent cancer and other diseases?

For adults:
150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity each week, will help improve blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, as well as muscle and bone strength.

Each week, increasing to:
300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity, or 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, will help to prevent some cancers and unhealthy weight gain.

What are the physical activity recommendations for older Australians?

There are five physical activity recommendations for older Australians.
1. Older people should do some form of physical activity, no matter what their age, weight, health problems or abilities.
2. Older people should be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of physical activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.
3. Older people should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all days.
4. Older people who have stopped physical activity, or who are starting a new physical activity, should start at a level that is easily manageable and gradually build up the recommended amount, type and frequency of activity.
5. Older people who continue to enjoy a lifetime of vigorous physical activity should carry on doing so in a manner suited to their capability into later life, provided recommended safety procedures and guidelines are adhered to.