Physical activity

Physical activity

Low levels of physical activity are a major risk factor for chronic conditions. 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. Physical activity can also be helpful in the management and treatment of many chronic conditions—by improving symptoms, and/or delaying or halting progression of the condition or the onset of associated diseases and complications (Pedersen & Saltin 2015).

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines outline the minimum amount of physical activity required for health benefits (Department of Health 2019). These recommend that adults aged 18–64:

  1. accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week
  2. do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

For adults aged 65 and over, the Guidelines recommend that older people accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days.

The data presented in this section are for adults only. There are different guidelines for children. For information on physical activity for children and young people see Physical activity across the life stages.

Physical activity in this section is based on self-reported data from the ABS 2017-18 National Health Survey (NHS) which collects data on time spent walking for fitness, recreation and sport, walking for transport, moderate exercise, vigorous exercise and workplace physical activity which is moderate to vigorous (ABS 2019b). ‘Sufficiently physically active’ refers to meeting the physical activity guideline and is operationalised here as:

  • completing 150 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week (where vigorous activity is multiplied by 2), and
  • being active on 5 or more days per week.

2 in 5

Australian women aged 18 and over are sufficiently physically active

According to 2017–18 data, 2 in 5 (41%) women aged 18 and over were sufficiently physically active—just over 1 in 5 women (22%) did strength or toning activities on 2 or more days. Overall, 3 in 20 (14%) women were sufficiently physically active and met the muscle strengthening guideline (Figure 1) (ABS 2019a).

Figure 1: Proportion of women aged 18 and over who met the physical activity guideline, strength guideline and both guidelines, 2017–18

These 3 pie charts show that 41%25 of women met the guideline for physical activity, 22%25 met the guideline for strength and toning (78%25 did not), and 14%25 met the guidelines for both physical activity and strength and toning (86%25 did not).

Note: Includes workplace activity
Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2019a (see Table S1 for footnotes).

In 2017–18, the proportion of women who were sufficiently physically active varied by age and for some population groups (ABS 2019a):

  • around 1 in 2 women aged 18–24 (52%) were sufficiently physically active compared with around 1 in 4 women aged 65 and over (26%) (Figure 2)
  • after adjusting for age, 1 in 2 women (49%) living in the highest socioeconomic areas were sufficiently physically active compared with 1 in 3 women (34%) in the lowest areas.

Figure 2: Proportion of women who were sufficiently physically active, by age group (years), 2017–18

This column chart shows the proportion of women who were sufficiently physically active generally declines with age, decreasing from 52%25 of women aged 18–24 to 26%25 of women aged 65 years and over.

Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2019a (see Table S1 for footnotes).

For more information, see Insufficient physical activity.