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



    The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australian adults recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days. In the AHS, this recommendation has been translated to the following measure, considered to correlate with good health outcomes:
    • 150 minutes of physical activity over five or more sessions per week, classified in the survey as 'sufficiently active for health'.

    For persons aged 18 years and over, there are currently no sedentary behaviour guidelines available.


    Vigorous intensity physical activity was defined as activity undertaken for fitness, recreation or sport that caused a large increase in the respondent's heart rate or breathing.

    Moderate intensity physical activity was more moderate, and not already reported as vigorous physical activity.

    The level of activity reported is based on the following Sufficient Physical Activity measure[1]:

    Inactive No walking, moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity
    Insufficiently active Some activity* but not enough to reach the levels required for 'sufficiently active'
    Sufficiently active (for health) 150 minutes of moderate/vigorous physical activity* from five or more sessions.

    *Vigorous physical activity time is multiplied by two.

    See the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide for further information.

In 2011-12, 43% of adults met the "sufficiently active" threshold. The remainder were classed as insufficiently active (36%) or inactive (20%).

The highest levels of physical activity were among the 18–24 year olds with 59% of males and 48% of females classed as sufficiently active. Across all 18–24 year olds, this corresponded to average daily activity durations of 46 minutes for males and 32 minutes for females. Levels of physical activity tended to decline in older ages, with just one in three men and one in five women 75 years or over getting sufficient physical activity.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 and over - Sufficient physical activity (a), 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week from at least five sessions.

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity

One major factor associated with sufficient physical activity is the person's level of general health. In 2011-12, 57% of adults who described their health as "excellent" had done sufficient physical activity compared with 27% of people with "fair" and 26% with "poor" self–assessed health. In addition to doing more physical activity, people with "excellent" self-assessed health spent over five hours per week less doing sedentary leisure activity than those in "fair/poor" health. The association between self–assessed health and sufficient physical activity still remained marked even after accounting for the age pattern across the self-assessed health categories.

People living in areas of greatest disadvantage were less likely to be sufficiently active (34%) compared with those living in areas of least disadvantage (52%). The amount of physical activity per day was significantly lower (26 minutes compared with 38 minutes). Similar patterns are also seen when comparing equivalised household income and highest educational attainment with sufficient physical activity level. See Table 5: Average time spent on physical activity and sedentary behaviour, Persons aged 18 years and over for more information.

Graph Image for Persons 18 years and over - Proportion of sufficient physical activity(a) by levels of disadvantage(b), 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) At least 150 minutes of physical activity per week from at least five sessions. (b) Based on the 2011 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage. A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates an area with relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates an area with a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general. See Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage in the Glossary.

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity

Not surprisingly, the intensity and type of physical activity undertaken changed across the age spectrum. Vigorous physical activity (defined as causing a large increase in heart rate or breathing) was highest among the younger adults with 18–24 year olds reporting just under 2 hours (114 minutes) on average in the last week. The average time spent in vigorous physical activity generally declined with age, with the exception of the 35–44 and 45–54 year olds averaging around 59-60 minutes. By age 75 years and over, the average time was 7 minutes, reflecting the small proportion (5%) in that age group who reported doing any vigorous physical activity. See Table 8: Type of physical activity, Persons aged 18 years and over (minutes).

Time spent walking for fitness, recreation or sport peaked among people aged between 45–74 years with around 75-80 minutes per week. This was around twice the time spent by people aged 18–24 years (40 minutes). The increased time spent walking for fitness from middle age years onwards is in part a consequence of greater male participation in walking which rose from 27% at age 18–24 year to peak at 43% by age 55–64 years.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Average minutes per week spent on physical activity, 2011-12


1 AIHW 2003, The Active Australia Survey: a Guide and Manual for Implementation, Analysis and Reporting, Cat. no. CVD 22, Canberra: AIHW

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