Key findings

  • In 2017–18, just over 1 in 10 (11%) 15–17 year olds were sufficiently active (including workplace activity) for their age, while just over 1 in 6 (16%) met the recommended muscle strengthening activity guidelines.
  • In 2017–18, over half (55%) of 18–24 year olds were sufficiently active (including workplace activity) for their age, while more than 1 in 3 (36%) met the recommended muscle strengthening activity guidelines.
  • In 2007–08 and 2017–18, the proportion of young people aged 15–17 who were sufficiently active (excluding workplace activity) was similar (12% and 10%, respectively), while it increased for 18–24 year olds over this period (from 35% to 41%).

Reducing sedentary behaviour and participating in physical activity are essential to health, development and psychosocial wellbeing. Physical activity:

  • helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • allows for development of bone strength and muscle control, as well as brain development, balance and coordination.

Adequate good-quality sleep, in addition to physical activity, assists in academic achievement and cognition, and improves mental health and emotional regulation (see About physical activity and exercise) (Brand & Kirov 2011; DoH 2021a, 2021b).

Leading a balanced and active lifestyle is also important for cardiorespiratory, metabolic and musculoskeletal health, and plays a critical role in preventing and treating non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers (WHO 2010).

Australia has developed Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines which recommend reducing time spent undertaking sedentary activities and advise the amount of physical activity required for young people to achieve health benefits (DoH 2021a, 2021b). Australia has different physical activity guidelines for different age groups. The guidelines related to young people aged 15–24 are:

These guidelines are summarised in Table 1.

Table 1: Summary of the physical activity guidelines for young people aged 15–17 and 18–24

Behaviour guideline

15–17 year olds

18–24 year olds

Physical activity

Accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, involving mainly aerobic activities at least 3 days per week

Several hours of light physical activities

Incorporate vigorous activities at least 3 days per 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

Be active on most, preferably all, days every week

Sedentary or recreational screen-based activity

No more than 120 minutes of recreational screen use per day

Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible

Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting

Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible

Strength

Muscle and bone strengthening activities at least 3 times a week

Muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days a week

Sleep

Uninterrupted 8–10 hours of sleep per night

Consistent bed and wake-up times

No specific guidelines

Source: DoH 2021c, 2021d.

How we are reporting physical activity

For the purposes of this report, sufficient physical activity is defined as:

  • adolescents aged 15–17 who completed at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day
  • young adults aged 18–24 who completed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity across 5 or more days in the last week.

Box 1: Data sources

ABS National Health Survey

The National Health Survey (NHS) collects a range of information about the health of Australians in all states and territories across urban, rural and remote areas (excluding very remote areas). Physical activity and muscle strengthening data are from the 2017–18 NHS, which surveyed around 21,000 participants in over 16,000 private dwellings. Time-series data for physical activity come from the NHS for 2007–08, 2011–12, 2014–15 and 2017–18.

Data on young people were collected from an adult, nominated by the household, for the interview. Where permission was granted by a parent or guardian, children aged 15–17 were interviewed in person.

Physical activity was based on activity completed in the week before responding to this survey.

Physical activity in the workplace and time series

The NHS 2017–18 was the first iteration of the survey to collect information on workplace physical activity. Except for time-series analysis, physical activity data reported in this section include physical activity undertaken in the workplace.

AusPlay survey

Data on young people’s participation in organised sport and physical recreation come from the AusPlay survey, a nationally representative tracking survey funded and led by the Australian Sports Commission. Since October 2015, data have been collected continuously with an annual target sample of 20,000 adults aged 15 and over, and approximately 3,600 children aged 0–14. Data collection for AusPlay is continuous, with telephone interviews conducted every week and data aggregated over the year.

Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study, which began in 2004 and follows the development of Australian children. Population estimates from the LSAC represent the population of Australian children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004 (B cohort), and those born between March 1999 and February 2000 (K cohort). Data are not representative of children who migrated to Australia.

The 2 cohorts totalled >10,000 children at the outset of the study (in 2004). The survey collects information on physical and mental health; education; and social, cognitive and emotional development. The data are sourced from parents, child carers, educators and the children themselves.

How many young people are sufficiently active?

The following analysis of physical activity includes workplace activity (see Box 1 for more information).

In 2017–18, based on self-reported data from the NHS it is estimated that:

  • just over 1 in 10 (11% or 89,100) of all 15–17 year olds were sufficiently active for their age, with the proportion higher among males (16% or 67,700) than among females (5.3% or 21,400)
  • over half (55% or 1.2 million) of all 18–24 year olds were sufficiently active for their age, with similar proportions among males (59% or 663,800) and females (52% or 570,300) (Figure 1).

The higher proportion of 18–24 year olds who were sufficiently active is largely due to the different physical activity guidelines for this age group compared with those for 15–17 year olds (150 minutes of physical activity across the week compared with 420 minutes).

The most recent data available on young people who met the sedentary screen‑based behaviour are from the Australian Health Survey (AHS): Nutrition and physical activity, 2011–12. Findings show that almost 1 in 5 (19%) 15–17 year olds met the sedentary screen-based behaviour (AIHW 2018). As mentioned earlier, there are not specific sedentary behaviour guidelines for 18–24 year olds.

Figure 1: Proportion of young people who were sufficiently active, by age group and sex, 2017–18

The column chart shows the proportion of young people that are sufficiently active, with 11%25 of those aged 15–17 and 55%25 of those aged 18–24.

Note: Data include workplace physical activity.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2019.

How has physical activity changed over time?

The following analysis of physical activity over time excludes workplace activity (see Box 1 for more information).

In 2017–18, the proportion of 15–17 year olds who were sufficiently active was similar to that for 2007–08 (10% and 12%, respectively) (Figure 2). However, the proportion has fluctuated over time, dropping between 2011–12 and 2014–15 (from 16% to 5.8%) before returning to 10% in 2017–18. The drop between 2011–12 and 2014–15 applied to both males and females aged 15–17.

Figure 2: Proportion of young people aged 15–17 who were sufficiently active, 2007–08 to 2017–18

The bar chart shows that the proportion of young people aged 15–17 who are sufficiently active has fluctuated over time, with 12%25 in 2007–08, 16%25 in 2011–12, 5.8%25 in 2014–15 and 10%25 in 2017–18.

Note: Data exclude workplace physical activity.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2019.

The proportion of young people aged 18–24 who were sufficiently active was higher in 2017–18 than in 2007–08 (41% and 35%) (Figure 3). The greatest increase over time was between 2014–15 and 2017–18 (from 35% to 41%). The proportion of females aged 18–24 who were sufficiently active was higher in 2017–18 than in 2007–08 (41% and 33%).

Figure 3: Proportion of young people aged 18–24 who were sufficiently active, 2007–08 to 2017–18

The bar chart shows that the proportion of young people aged 18–24 who are sufficiently active has fluctuated over time, with 35%25 in 2007–08, 38%25 in 2011–12, 35%25 in 2014–15 and 41%25 in 2017–18.

Note: Data exclude workplace physical activity.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2009; 2013; 2016; 2019.

How many young people are doing enough muscle strengthening activity?

In 2017–18, based on self–reported data from the NHS:

  • just under 1 in 6 (16% or 133,900) 15–17 year olds undertook the recommended amount of muscle strengthening activities, with the proportion higher among males (22% or 96,600) than among females (9.1% or 37,300)
  • around 1 in 3 (36% or 795,700) 18–24 year olds undertook the recommended amount of muscle strengthening activities, with the proportion higher among males (40% or 454,700) than among females (31% or 341,000) (Figure 4).

The muscle strengthening guidelines differs by age group.

Figure 4: Proportion of young people who met the muscle strengthening guidelines, by age group and sex, 2017–18

The column chart shows the proportion of young people that met the muscle strengthening guidelines, with 16%25 of those aged 15–17 and 36%25 of those aged 18–24.

Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2019.

What types of physical activity are young people doing?

The 2019 AusPlay survey asked people aged 15 and over whether they had participated in any physical activities for sport, for exercise, or for recreation in the last 12 months. The proportion of young people who participated at least once a week was:

  • 89% (752,900) of those aged 15–17
  • 83% (2.0 million) of those aged 18–24 (ASC 2020).

The most popular activities for young people aged 15–17 were:

  • fitness/gym (26% or 220,200)
  • athletics, track and field (including jogging and running) (25% or 209,500)
  • football/soccer (22% or 182,600) (ASC 2020) (Figure 5a).

For those aged 18–24, the most popular activities were

  • fitness/gym (46% or 1.1 million)
  • athletics, track and field (including jogging and running) (23% or 543,200)
  • walking (recreational) (22% or 528,500) (Figure 5b).

Figures 5: Top 10 most popular physical activities for young people aged 15–17 and 18–24, 2019

The column chart shows that the physical activity done by the highest proportion of those aged 15–17 and 18–24 was fitness/gym, 26%25 and 46%25, respectively.

(a) Athletics, track and field includes jogging and running.
Note: Data based on participation in activities at least once a year.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ASC 2020.

What motivates young people to participate in physical activity?

In 2019, the top motivators for participating in physical activity among young people aged 15–17 and 18–24 differed:

  • Among 15–17 year olds, the top motivator was fun/enjoyment (71%), followed by physical health or fitness (64%). The third motivator was social reasons (38%) followed by performance or competition (14%).
  • Among 18–24 year olds, the top motivator was Physical health or fitness (75%) followed by fun/enjoyment (53%). The third motivator was social reasons (35%) followed by psychological/mental health therapy (21%) (ASC 2020).

What are the barriers to participating in physical activity?

The most commonly reported barriers to participation in physical activity for those aged 18–24 were:

  • not enough time/too many other commitments (37%)
  • poor health or injury (12%) or too lazy (11%) (ASC 2020).

Do physical activity and muscle strengthening activities vary by population?

In 2017–18, the proportion of young people aged 15–24 who undertook sufficient physical activity was higher in:

  • the highest socioeconomic areas than in the lowest socioeconomic areas (48% and 36%) (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Young people aged 15–24 who were sufficiently active, by selected population groups, 2017–18

The bar chart shows that the proportion of young people that are sufficiently active varied by socioeconomic area with 48%25 for the highest and 36%25 for the lowest.

Note: Data include workplace physical activity.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2019.

The proportion of young people who undertook sufficient muscle strengthening activities was higher in:

  • Major cities (33%) than in Inner regional, Outer regional and Remote areas combined (20%)
  • the highest socioeconomic areas than in the lowest socioeconomic areas (39% compared with 25%) (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Young people aged 15–24 who met the muscle strengthening guidelines, by selected population groups, 2017–18

The bar chart shows that the proportion of young people that met the muscle strengthening guidelines varied by socioeconomic area, with 39%25 for the highest and 25%25 for the lowest, and by remoteness area, with 33%25 for Major cities and 19%25 for Inner regional, Outer regional and Remote areas combined.

Note: Socio-economic areas are based on quintiles of the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) 2016 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2019.

Box 2: How many young people get enough sleep?

Getting enough sleep is important for a young person’s health, regulation of emotions and school functioning (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). The amount of sleep needed varies with age. The Department of Health recommends between 8 and 10 hours for young people aged 14–17 (DoH 2021c). The Sleep Health Foundation also recommends keeping a regular sleep–wake routine (Sleep Health Foundation 2011).

Based on research from the LSAC, in 2016, over half (52%) of those aged 16–17 did not get the required amount of sleep on school nights (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). Non-school nights provide opportunities to catch up on sleep missed during the week (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).

Young people aged 16–17 slept an average of 8.1 hours on school nights, and over an hour longer on non-school nights (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). Among those aged 16–17, on non-school nights, females slept for longer than males (9.4 hours compared with 9.1 hours), but there was little difference on school nights (8.1 and 8.0 hours, respectively) (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).

Among young people aged 16–17, 13% of males and 20% of females reported that they had poor quality sleep (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).

Where do I find more information?

For information on topics related to physical activity in this report, see:

For information on Indigenous young people and physical activity, see:

For information on children and physical activity, see:

For more information on:

 


Return to Australia's youth: