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Low levels of physical activity are a major risk factor for ill health and mortality from all causes. People who do not do sufficient physical activity have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Being physically active improves mental and musculoskeletal health and reduces other risk factors such as overweight and obesity, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.

Box 1: How is physical inactivity measured?

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by the muscles which results in energy expenditure. Although most measures of physical activity focus on deliberate activity during leisure time, other forms of activity such as walking or cycling for transport, work-related activity, and daily household tasks such as housework or gardening all contribute to total physical activity.

Australia's 2014 Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that adult Australians aged 18–64:

  • be active on most, preferably all, days every week
  • accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week
  • do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week
  • minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting
  • break up long periods of sitting as often as possible [1].

There are different guidelines for children and young people [2, 3, 4] and for older adults [5].

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011–12 Australian Health Survey (AHS), people were asked to report the intensity, the duration and the number of sessions spent on physical activity during the week preceding the survey [6].

Results presented here focus on the population who are not sufficiently active for health, which captures those who, in the past week, were:

  • inactive-no walking, moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity
  • insufficiently active-some activity but not enough to reach the levels required for health benefit.

Who is physically inactive?

Based on self-reported data from the 2011–12 AHS, over 1 in 2 people aged 18 and over (56%) do not meet physical activity guidelines. Overall, a higher proportion of women (58%) than men (53%) do not meet physical activity guidelines.

Physical inactivity increases with age (Figure 1). For those aged 18–24, 42% of men and 51% of women do not meet physical activity guidelines. For those aged 75 and over, 67% of men and 81% of women do not meet physical activity guidelines.

Figure 1: Prevalence of insufficient physical activity in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, 2011–12

Vertical bar chart showing for (men; women); age group (18-24 to 75plus years) on the x axis; per cent (0 to 90) on the y axis.

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS 'Australian Health Survey, 2011–12 (Core component)' (see source data).

Trends in physical inactivity

There are currently no trend data for the level of physical activity in the adult population, using the measures in the AHS. Data presented here are based on trends in the proportion of adults who were physically inactive based on a derived measure of intensity, duration and session from past national health surveys.

Between 1989–90 and 2011–12 there has been little change in the proportion of adults who do not meet physical activity guidelines (age-standardised; Figure 2).

Figure 2: Prevalence of insufficient physical activity in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, 1989–90 to 2011–12

Stacked line chart showing for (men; women); year (1989-90 to 2011-12) on the x axis; per cent (0 to 70) on the y axis.

Notes:

  1. Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.
  2. To enable comparison with 2011–12, data from 1989–90 to 2007–08 which are based on duration, session and intensity information over a 2-week recall period were averaged over a week. They exclude incidental physical activity such as walking for transport.

Sources: AIHW analysis of the ABS 1989–90, 1995, 2001, 2004–05, 2007–08 NHS CURFs and 'Microdata: Australian Health Survey, Core Content—Risk Factors and Selected Health Conditions, 2011–12 (see source data).

Inequalities

Adults living in Inner regional or Outer regional and remote areas are, on average, less active (at 62% and 61% respectively) than those living in Major cities (53%) (Figure 3).

The proportion of people who do not meet physical activity guidelines increases with socioeconomic disadvantage. Sixty per cent of men and 67% of women living in the most disadvantaged areas do not meet physical activity guidelines, compared with 44% of men and 50% of women living in the least disadvantaged areas.

Figure 3: Prevalence of insufficient physical activity in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, by selected population characteristics, 2011–12

Horizontal bar chart showing for (men; women); per cent (0 to 80) on the x axis; population subgroup on the y axis.

Note: Q1–Q5 refers to area-based quintiles classified according to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas 2011 (SEIFA 2011), specifically the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD).

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 'Microdata: Australian Health Survey, Core Content—Risk Factors and Selected Health Conditions, 2011–12' (see source data).

Children and adolescents

The 2011–12 AHS indicates that 29% of children (aged 5–11) and 8% of adolescents (aged 12–17) undertake the recommended physical activity every day. Toddlers and pre-schoolers (aged 2–4) spend an average of around 6 hours per day engaged in physical activity [7].


Source data

References

  1. Department of Health 2014. Australia's physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for adults (18–64 years). Canberra: Department of Health.
  2. Department of Health 2014. National physical activity recommendations for children 0–5 years. Canberra: Department of Health.
  3. Department of Health 2014. Australia's physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for children (5–12 years). Canberra: Department of Health.
  4. Department of Health 2014. Australia's physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for young people (13–17 years). Canberra: Department of Health.
  5. Department of Veterans' Affairs and Department of Health and Ageing 2005. Choose health: be active—a physical activity guide for older Australians. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia and the Repatriation Commission.
  6. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2013. Australian Health Survey: users' guide, 2011–13. ABS cat. no. 4363.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  7. ABS 2013. Australian Health Survey: physical activity, 2011–12. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.004. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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