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Physical activity

Contains key statistics and information about exercise and physical activity trends within Australia, including state and territory specific findings

Reference period
2017-18
Released
12/12/2018
Next release Unknown
First release

Key statistics

  • Only a minority of Australians met the physical activity guidelines.
  • 55% of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week.
  • 44% of adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting.

Physical activity

Physical activity can be undertaken in many different forms and occur in different places including at home and at work. The benefits of regular physical activity or exercise include reducing the risk of health conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, depression and some injuries[1]. In addition, physical activity and exercise are an important contributor for achieving and maintaining a healthy body mass.

Key findings

  • Overall Australians aged 15 years and over exercised 42 minutes per day on average, the largest part of which consisted of walking for transport and walking for exercise (24.6 minutes). 
  • However, only a minority met the physical activity guidelines with 1.9% of 15-17 year olds, 15.0% of 18-64 year olds and 17.2% of 65 year olds and over meeting the 2014 Physical Activity Guidelines in 2017-18. 
  • One in ten (10.3%) 15-17 year olds engaged in 60 minutes of exercise (excluding workplace physical activity) every day and around one in six (15.8%) did strength or toning activities on three or more days in the last week. 
  • More than half (55.4%) of 18-64 years olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity and this increased to 65.5% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • One quarter (24.9%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Just over a quarter (26.1%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week. 
  • Adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting (43.7%), 22.8% described their day as mostly walking, 19.5% as mostly standing and 13.6% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work.
     

Definitions

Consistent with previous cycles of the National Health Survey (NHS), the types of exercise covered were walking for fitness, recreation and sport, walking for transport, moderate exercise and vigorous exercise. In 2017-18, data was additionally collected for the first time on workplace activity. 'Workplace activity' consists of two domains; moderate and vigorous activity, which was undertaken on a typical work day. Moderate exercise consists of activity that causes a moderate increase in heart rate or breathing, while vigorous exercise causes a large increase in a person's heart rate or breathing.

Australian's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (2014)[2] outlined that people should be active on most, if not all, days and recommend that: 

  • For young persons aged 15-17 years, at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. The guidelines also recommend that young persons aged 15-17 years do muscle strengthening activities on at least 3 days per week. 
  • For adults aged 18-64 years, 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both, per week. The guidelines also recommend that adults aged 18-64 years do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days per week. 
  • For adults aged 65 years and over, at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days. For the NHS, we interpret this recommendation as carried out at least 30 minutes of physical activity on at least 5 or more days.


In this chapter, results are presented separately with and without workplace physical activity. Results without workplace physical activity are directly comparable with previous time periods. The term exercise is used to refer to results without workplace physical activity. Furthermore, where we refer to 'no exercise', this means that respondents engaged in 0 minutes of exercise in the last week.


Overall Australians aged 15 years and over exercised 42 minutes per day on average, the largest part of which consisted of walking for transport and walking for exercise (24.6 minutes).

Young persons aged 15-17 years

Around nine in ten (88.9%) young persons aged 15-17 years engaged in some form of exercise in the last week. 

Less than one in fifty (1.9%) 15-17 year olds met both the physical activity and muscle strengthening aspects of the guidelines, however around one in ten (10.3%) 15-17 years olds participated in 60 minutes of exercise every day and around one in six (15.8%) did strength or toning activities on three or more days in the last week; meeting the individual recommendations within the guidelines.

The proportion of 15-17 year olds engaging in 60 minutes of exercise every day has almost doubled since 2014-15 (5.5%), whereas strength or toning on three or more days in the last week has not increased significantly (13.1% in 2014-15). 

Young males (15-17 year olds) were almost three times more likely than females (14.1% compared with 4.9% respectively) to have engaged in 60 minutes of exercise every day. Young males were also almost two and half times more likely than females to have participated in three or more days of strength or toning activities (22.4% compared with 8.4%).

Adults aged 18-64 years

The majority (83.5%) of 18-64 year olds engaged in some form of deliberate voluntary exercise (not including workplace physical activity). However, only 15.0% of these participants met both the physical activity and muscle strengthening aspects of the guidelines.

Whilst a low proportion met the guidelines, more than half (55.4%) of 18-64 years olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity, thereby meeting at least one of the recommendations of the physical activity guidelines. This proportion has remained unchanged since 2011-12 (54.5%). In 2017-18, similar proportions of men and women engaged in 150 or more minutes in the last week (56.1% and 54.7% respectively).

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a. Based on exercise only and not including workplace physical activity.

If workplace activity is included, the proportion of 18-64 year olds who met the guidelines increased to 17.0%. The proportion of 18-64 year olds who undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week also increased (65.5%). With the inclusion of workplace physical activity, the proportion of men who engaged in 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week exceeded that of women (69.7% compared with 61.3%). 

The proportion of people who engaged in 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week decreased with age whether workplace physical activity was included or not. Nearly two thirds of 18-24 year olds (64.1%) undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise (74.1% if workplace physical activity was included) compared with 50.7% (59.3% if workplace physical activity was included) for 55-64 year olds.

In 2017-18, one quarter (24.9%) of 18-64 year olds did strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week as recommended in the guidelines; this was a similar proportion to 2014-15 (24.1%). A higher proportion of men than women did two or more days of strength and toning activities (26.6% compared with 23.3%), which was similar to 2014-15 (25.9% and 22.3% respectively). 

More than two thirds (69.6%) of 18-64 year olds did not conduct any strength or toning activities; the same proportion was found in 2014-15 (69.6%). The low uptake of strength and toning activities contributes to the low proportion of 18-64 years olds meeting the entire physical activity guidelines (15.0% with exercise only and 17.0% including workplace physical activity).

Adults aged 65 years and over

Adults aged 65 years and over are recommended to participate in 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days. This is interpreted as carried out physical activity daily and on at least 5 of the days for 30 minutes or more. Whilst almost three quarters (71.1%) of adults aged 65 years and over engaged in some form of exercise in the last week, just over a quarter (26.1%) of older adults engaged in 30 minutes or more of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week. This was similar to results from 2014-15 and 2011-12 (24.9% and 23.8% respectively). In 2017-18, there was no difference between men and women engaging in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week (27.8% and 24.6% respectively).

How did exercise vary across areas?

Adults living in areas of most disadvantage were more likely to engage in no exercise (28.5%) and less likely to meet the physical activity guidelines (10.2%) than their counterparts living in the least disadvantaged areas (10.4% and 21.5% respectively). 
Those living in Outer Regional and Remote Australia were less likely to exercise than those living in Major Cities of Australia. More than a quarter (27.9%) of adults living in Outer Regional and Remote Australia engaged in no exercise compared with around one in six (15.9%) living in Major Cities of Australia. Adults living in Major Cities of Australia were also more likely to have met the physical activity guidelines (16.2%) in comparison to those living in Outer Regional and Remote Australia (12.2%).

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a. A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general. See Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage in the Glossary.
 

Type of physical activity at work on a typical work day

In addition to questions around the amount of time spent in physical activity, people who usually worked were asked to describe their usual work day. Nearly one in two (43.7%) 18-64 year olds described their day as mostly sitting, while 22.8% described their day as mostly walking, 19.5% as mostly standing and 13.6% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work.

Men and women had similar rates for mostly sitting or standing at work, however, men were almost four times more likely than women to report mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work (20.6% compared with 5.3%). The typical work day also varied by age with adults aged 18-24 years less likely to mostly sit (21.8%) and more likely to mostly stand (30.0%) or mostly walk (30.6%) than their older counterparts.

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State and territory findings

  • Nationally, more than half (55.4%) of 18-64 years olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity, thereby meeting at least one of the recommendations of the physical activity guidelines. 
  • Rates varied by State and Territory with the highest proportion being in the Australian Capital Territory (62.6%), compared with the lowest in Queensland and South Australia (51.2% and 51.5% respectively). 
  • The highest proportion of persons aged 18-64 years who undertook 150 minutes of physical activity (including workplace activity) in the last week was in Western Australia (70.9%) and the lowest in South Australia and Queensland (62.5% and 62.9% respectively).
     

New South Wales

  • One in ten (10.8%) 15-17 year olds engaged in 60 minutes of exercise (excluding workplace physical activity) every day and around one in five (19.8%) did strength or toning activities on three or more days in the last week. 
  • More than half (57.3%) of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity and this increased to 66.6% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • One quarter (26.2%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Nearly one in two (45.3%) adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting, while 21.3% described their day as mostly walking, 19.6% as mostly standing and 13.4% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • Just over a quarter (25.8%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week.

Victoria

  • One in ten (10.8%) 15-17 year olds engaged in 60 minutes of exercise (excluding workplace physical activity) every day and around one in seven (13.7%) did strength or toning activities on three or more days in the last week. 
  • More than half (55.0%) of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity and this increased to 64.9% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • Almost one quarter (24.4%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Over two in five adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting (43.4%), 24.7% as mostly walking, 19.6% as mostly standing and 11.3% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • Over a quarter (27.9%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week.

Queensland

  • Around one in nine (11.3%) 15-17 year olds engaged in 60 minutes of exercise (excluding workplace physical activity) every day, while one in nine (11.4%) did strength or toning activities on three or more days in the last week. 
  • More than half (51.2%) of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity and this increased to 62.9% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • Almost one quarter (23.1%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Over two in five adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting (42.3%), 21.4% described their day as mostly walking, 20.2% as mostly standing and 15.6% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • One quarter (25.0%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week.


Queensland had a lower rate of adults aged 18-64 years who undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity compared with Australia (51.2% compared with 55.4%) and also when workplace physical activity was included (62.9% compared with 65.5%).

South Australia

  • More than half (51.5%) of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity and this increased to 62.5% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • Around one quarter (24.8%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting (41.6%), 24.0% described their day as mostly walking, 18.6% as mostly standing and 15.0% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • Just over a quarter (26.0%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week.


South Australia had a lower rate of adults aged 18-64 years who undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week excluding workplace physical activity compared with Australia (51.5% compared with 55.4%).

Western Australia

  • Around three in five (59.4%) adults aged 18-64 years undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity. This increased to 70.9% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • One quarter (25.9%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Adults aged 18-64 years most commonly described their day at work as mostly sitting (41.3%), almost one quarter (24.0%) described their day as mostly walking, 17.8% as mostly standing and 15.2% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • Almost one quarter (23.0%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on five or more days in the last week.


Western Australia had a higher rates of adults aged 18-64 years who undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week excluding workplace physical activity compared with Australia (59.4% compared with 55.4%) and when workplace activity was included (70.9% compared with 65.5%).

Tasmania

  • More than half (52.5%) of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise, excluding workplace physical activity in the last week. This rate increased to 64.6% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • Over a quarter (27.9%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week. 
  • One fifth (20.8%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • About one third (39.2%) of adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting, 24.3% described their day as mostly walking, 18.3% as mostly standing and 16.9% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work.

Northern Territory

  • More than half (53.0%) of 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity and this increased to 64.3% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • More than one fifth (21.6%) of 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting (40.2%), 25.7% described their day as mostly walking, 20.0% as mostly standing and 13.9% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • Almost one third (30.2%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week.

Australian Capital Territory

  • Three in five (62.6%) 18-64 year olds undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week, excluding workplace physical activity, this increased to 68.8% when workplace physical activity was included. 
  • Three in ten (30.0%) 18-64 year olds undertook strength or toning activities on two or more days in the last week. 
  • Adults aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting (60.0%), 16.6% described their day as mostly walking, 15.6% as mostly standing and 6.7% as mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work. 
  • Almost one third (30.9%) of older adults (65 years and over) engaged in 30 minutes of exercise on 5 or more days in the last week.


Australian Capital Territory had a higher rate of adults aged 18-64 years who undertook 150 minutes or more of exercise in the last week excluding workplace activity compared with Australia (62.6% compared with 55.4%), although a higher rate who described their day as mostly sitting (60.0% compared with 43.7%).

Data downloads

Table 1: Summary health characteristics, 2001 to 2017-18 - Australia

Table 2: Summary health characteristics, 2017-18 - states and territories

Table 5: Selected current long-term conditions by health risk factors and health status - Australia

Table 6: Health risk factors by population characteristics - Australia

Table 13: Physical activity - Australia

Table 20: New South Wales

Table 21: Victoria

Table 22: Queensland

Table 23: South Australia

Table 24: Western Australia

Table 25: Tasmania

Table 26: Northern Territory

Table 27: Australian Capital Territory

Table 28: Access to supermarkets and fast food outlets

Table 29: Access to supermarkets and fast food outlets by health risk factors

All data cubes

Endnotes

Show all

  1. Department of Health, 21 November 2017, Physical Activity http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/phy-activity; last accessed 10/10/2018
  2. Department of Health, 21 November 2017, The Department of Health: Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines; last accessed 10/10/2018

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4364.0.55.001.