Summary

Participating in regular physical activity and limiting the amount of time being sedentary can have significant health benefits—it reduces the risk of chronic conditions and other disease risk factors such as overweight and obesity, and also improves social and emotional health and wellbeing. While there are many opportunities to be physically active every day, our social, environmental and cultural context—as well as the settings in which we live, work and play—are important determinants of physical activity participation.

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (the Guidelines) set out a series of recommendations on the amount of physical activity (both aerobic and strength-based) and sedentary activity that is consistent with optimal health. The Guidelines (outlined in detail in this report) differ by age, with recommendations across the life stages for the age groups birth–5 years, 5–12, 13–17, 18–64, and 65 and over.

This report presents information on Australians’ physical and sedentary activity participation rates against the Guidelines. It presents information across different population groups, including by Indigenous status, remoteness, socioeconomic groups and sex, and considers the barriers to physical activity across the life stages.

Few Australians of all ages meeting the physical activity guideline

Overall, 30% of children aged 2–17 and 44% of adults aged 18 and over met the physical activity guideline. Children aged 2–5 were most likely to meet the guideline (61%) while children aged 13–17 were least likely to meet the guideline (7.9%).

Meeting the guideline decreased with increasing age for both children and adults:

  • from 61% of 2–5 year olds to 26% of 5–12 year olds to 7.9% of 13–17 year olds
  • from 48% of 18–64 year olds to 25% of those aged 65 and over.

Additionally, among adults aged 18–64, fewer than 1 in 4 (24%) met the strength-based activity guideline and less than 1 in 5 (19%) met both the physical and strength-based activity guidelines.

Most children exceed the recommended amount of sedentary screen-based activity, in particular adolescent boys

Only 1 in 4 (25%) children aged 2–5; 1 in 3 (35%) children aged 5–12; and 1 in 5 (20%) children aged 13–17 met the sedentary screen-based behaviour guideline.

Adolescents aged 13–17 were least likely to meet the sedentary screen-based activity guideline. Despite participation in physical activity being similar between adolescent boys and girls, 85% of 13–17 year old boys did not meet this guideline, compared with 74% of adolescent girls.

‘Not enough time’ and health issues remain a barrier

Almost 4 in 10 adults aged 18–64 (37%) reported Not enough time or Too many other commitments as the main barriers to participating in sport or recreational physical activities. As age increased, Poor health    or injury was more frequently cited as the main barrier—increasing from almost one-fifth (18%) of those aged 35–44 to almost half (48%) of adults aged 65 and over.

Participation rates varied across socioeconomic groups, particularly among adults

Among Australian adults, those in the highest socioeconomic group were more likely to meet the physical activity guideline, compared with those in the lowest socioeconomic group:

  • 6 in 10 (60%) Australians aged 18–64 in the highest socioeconomic group, compared with only 37% in the lowest socioeconomic group.
  • 46% of Australians aged 65 and over in the highest socioeconomic group, compared with 28% in the lowest socioeconomic group.

This pattern was not found in children aged 2–5 and 5–17.

Indigenous children were more active than non-Indigenous children

Indigenous children aged 5–12 and young people aged 13–17 were more likely to meet the physical activity guideline, compared with non-Indigenous children:

  • 60% of Indigenous 5–12 year olds, compared with 45% of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
  • 33% of Indigenous 13–17 year olds, compared with 19% of their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Among young children aged 2–5, similar proportions of Indigenous (64%) and non-Indigenous (69%) children met the physical activity guideline.

Physical activity participation varied between Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults

Indigenous adults aged 18–64 and Indigenous women aged 65 and over were less likely to meet the physical activity guideline, compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts:

  • 38% of Indigenous adults aged 18–64, compared with 46% of non-Indigenous adults of this age.
  • non-Indigenous women aged 65 and over (38%) were twice as likely to meet the physical activity guideline, compared with Indigenous women of this age (16%).

However, the proportions were similar for:

  • Indigenous men (41%) and non-Indigenous men (44%) aged 65 and over who met the physical activity guideline.
  • Indigenous adults (9.4%) and non-Indigenous adults (10%) aged 65 and over who met the strength-based activity guideline.

Adults aged 65 and over spend more leisure time sitting and less in physical activity than younger adults

Adults aged 65 and over are more likely to have reduced working hours or to be retired, leading to increased leisure time for both physical and non-physical activities. As a result, this population group are spending more time sitting at leisure on  a  usual  weekday (6  hours), compared with adults aged 18–64 (4 hours and 29 minutes); and less time on physical activities per day, at 29 minutes for those aged 65 and over compared with 39 minutes for those aged 18 to 64.

Moving forward

The Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines are set with the intention of maintaining and improving the health of Australians through physical activity participation. Increasing awareness of the Guidelines and emphasising the importance of physical activity to health can improve participation across the life stages. This can be achieved through a multifaceted action plan targeting a diverse range of population groups.