4364.0.55.004 - Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12  
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Contents >> Adults >> Sedentary Behaviour


The relationship between sedentary behaviour and health outcomes has become of increasing interest to researchers and policy makers.


    Sedentary behaviour was defined as sitting or lying down for various activities in the last week. This included time spent sitting at work and time spent sitting or lying down for leisure activities.

    The definition of leisure activities includes activities conducted outside work and, unless specified otherwise, include data collected from questions on:
    • transport (including waiting for transport)
    • watching television or videos
    • playing electronic games
    • using a computer or the internet
    • using a phone (including text messages and talking)
    • other social or leisure activities (such as at a BBQ, for meals, at a cinema etc).

Overall, sedentary activity occupied, on average, 39 hours per week for adults, of which about 10 hours was at work and 29 hours was in leisure (including transport).

Watching TV was the most prevalent leisure time sedentary activity, taking up an average of nearly 13 hours per week. Older people tended to watch the most TV, with the 75 years and over group watching over 19 hours per week on average. In contrast, using computers or phones was more concentrated in younger ages with these technologies occupying 11 hours per week for 18–24 year olds on average, compared to just over six hours for the total adult population.

In the week prior to the survey, an estimated 10.4 million people aged 18 years and over (or 61% of adults) worked in a job or business. These workers spent an average of just over 16 hours sitting at work. Within occupation groups, Professionals, Clerical and Administrative workers and Managers spent the most time being sedentary at work, averaging between 22 and 23 hours of sitting at work in the last week, with Machinery Operators and Drivers the next most sedentary averaging over 19 hours. In terms of proportion of work time spent sitting, Clerical and Administrative workers were the most sedentary occupation group with the majority (64%) spending at least three-quarters of their time at work sitting, followed by Professionals, half of whom spent at least three-quarters of their work time sitting. The least sedentary occupation group was Labourers, who averaged just under 4 hours sitting in the last week, and 90% reported spending less than one-quarter of their work time sitting in the last week.

Graph Image for Persons 18 years and over - Average hours per week spent sitting by occupation groups (a), 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) Employed persons who worked in the last week

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity

Overall, working adults spent an average 22 hours and 10 minutes per week in a combination of sitting for work and travel purposes. The amount of sedentary work and travel time was closely associated with income. The average time spent sitting at work and transport for workers in the fifth quintile (top 20%) of equivalised income households was 30 hours and 23 minutes per week, around twice as long as adults from the first (13 hours and 23 minutes) and second quintile (15 hours and 13 minutes per week). However, time spent in sedentary leisure activities (excluding transport) was relatively even across household income groups (averaging between around 19 and 21 hours). This meant that in combined work and leisure, working adults in the highest household income group spent almost 51 hours per week in sedentary activity compared with the average of just over 40 hours for all other quintiles. On the other hand, adults in the highest income quintile also spent over an hour longer doing physical activity than people in the other quintiles (4 hours and 40 minutes compared with 3 hours and 31 minutes) per week.

Graph Image for Employed persons 18 years and over - Hours per week in sedentary and physical activity by income quintiles(a), 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) worked in last week

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity

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