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Between 2001 and 2007–08, the rate of Australian adults that did not get enough exercise has increased slightly (from 69% to 72%).

People who do not exercise enough are at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Why is this an important indicator for diabetes?

The prevalence of little or no exercise among Australian adults is an indicator of Australian adults who are at risk for Type 2 diabetes (AIHW 2007).

Getting enough exercise is important for good health. If you don’t get enough exercise, you are at greater risk of becoming overweight or obese, or developing high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol levels. These are all risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults and Older Australians ('the Guidelines') suggest adults should get at least:

  • 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week, or
  • 150 minutes of moderate activity over five or more sessions, each week. (DoHA 2010, DHAC 1999).

This indicator uses 'exercise' as a proxy for physical activity.

What are the results?

  • In 2007–08, just over 70% of Australian adults did little or no exercise (Table 1).
  • This rate changed slightly between 2001 and 2007–08, from 69% to 72%.
  • Australian females were less likely to exercise than males.
Table 1: Rates of low or no exercise among Australian adults (per cent)
2001 2004–05 2007–08
Males 65.0 66.9 68.7
Females 73.7 73.7 76.1
Persons 69.4 70.4 72.4

1. Directly age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population aged 18 years and over.
2. 'Little or no exercise' is defined as being sedentary or having only low-level activity over a two week period.
3. Includes only those for whom exercise levels were known, but does not include walking for transport. Exercise includes sport, recreation and fitness.
4. Based on self-reported data.

Sources: AIHW 2011 analysis of ABS NHS 2001, 2004–05 and 2007–08 (reissue).

What are the data sources?

There are two main data sources:

  • The 2001, 2004–05 and 2007–08 (reissue) Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Health Survey (NHS) (ABS cat. no. 4634.0), and
  • The 2001 ABS Estimated Resident Population (ERP).

How is this indicator calculated?

These rates are directly age-standardised using the 2001 ABS ERP and compare:

  • numerator: the number of adults who reported being sedentary or having only low levels of exercise (insufficient) (from the NHS), to
  • denominator: the total adult population (from the ABS ERP).

Are there any data limitations?

  • The NHS levels of physical activity do not exactly match the ones used in the Guidelines. For instance, the NHS’s ‘Low’ level of activity includes scores that are higher than the threshold for ‘Sufficient’ activity used in the Guidelines. This makes the rate of physical inactivity among Australian adults used in this indicator an overestimate. Possibly, people tending to overstate their level of physical activity in the survey may balance this.


Adults are people aged 18 years and over.

The NHS levels of physical activity were grouped into either 'low or no exercise' or 'moderate or high levels of exercise' to align as closely as possible to the 'sufficient' and 'insufficient' levels in the Guidelines (Table 2). However, it is important to note that the Guidelines are for a one week period, while the NHS data are for a two week period.

Table 2: Grouping of NHS levels of physical inactivity
Level Score
(Number of sessions x
Average time per session x Intensity(a))
Little or no exercise (Insufficient) Sedentary <100 (includes no physical activity)
Low ≥100 to <1,600
Moderate or high levels of exercise (Sufficient) Moderate ≥1,600 to <3,200 OR
≥3,200 including <2 hours of vigorous physical activity
High ≥3,200 including ≥2 hours of vigorous physical activity

(a) Intensity defines the ratio (Metabolic Equivalent or MET) to apply for each type of activity as ratio of the energy spent when the body is at rest (Rest Metabolic Rate).

Source: ABS2006; AIHW 2008.

Where can I find more information?

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2006. Physical activity in Australia: a snapshot, 2004–05. ABS cat. no. 4835.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW 2008. Diabetes: Australian facts 2008. Diabetes series no. 8. Cat. no. CVD 40. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2007. National indicators for monitoring diabetes: report of the Diabetes Indicators Review Subcommittee of the National Diabetes Data Working Group. Diabetes series no. 6. Cat. no. CVD 38. Canberra: AIHW.

Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC) 1999. National physical activity guidelines for Australians. Canberra: DHAC.

Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) 2010. Physical Activity Guidelines. Canberra: DoHA. Viewed 16 November 2010,


Australian Bureau of Statistics
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Department of Health and Aged Care
Department of Health and Ageing
Estimated resident Population
National Health Survey

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