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Physical activity can be beneficial to our health by helping to prevent and manage chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Regular physical activity is also an important component in weight management and psychological wellbeing.

What is meant by 'physical activity'? Physical activity includes just about any movement that results in energy expenditure. It can be taking part in a deliberate exercise or sport (such as running or swimming), incidental movement (for example, hanging out the washing) or work-related activity (such as lifting).

There is a difference between being physically inactive and being 'sedentary'. A sedentary behaviour is performed sitting or lying down (with the exception of sleeping) and requires little energy expenditure. Sedentary behaviours include sitting on the couch to watch TV or read a book.

Australia has national guidelines that outline the minimum levels of physical activity required for health benefits at all stages of life. For example, children aged 5–12 should:

  • accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day
  • engage in activities that strengthen muscle and bone on at least 3 days a week
  • minimise the time they are sedentary to gain further health benefits. To help achieve this, they are encouraged to limit the use of electric media for entertainment to no more than 2 hours a day.

For adults aged 18–64, the recommended minimum level of activity for health benefits is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both, each week. For added health benefits this activity should be across 5 or more sessions each week. Adults are also encouraged to do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days a week.

For adults aged 65 and over, the guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all, days.

For further information see Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines.