Latest release

Physical activity

Contains key statistics and information about exercise and physical activity within Australia

Reference period
2020-21 financial year
Released
21/03/2022
Next release 17/06/2022

Key statistics

  • 27.2% of people aged 15 years and over met the physical activity guidelines[1]
  • 73.4% of people aged 18-64 years undertook 150 minutes or more of physical activity in the last week
  • Nearly half (49.4%) of employed people aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting

The National Health Survey 2020-21 was collected online during the COVID-19 pandemic and is a break in time series. Data should be used for point-in-time analysis only and can’t be compared to previous years. See Methodology for more information.

Physical activity can take many different forms and can occur in the home, workplace or other environment. The benefits of regular physical activity include prevention and management of health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure[2]. Physical activity is also an important contributor for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Physical activity guidelines

Physical activity definitions

This survey measures physical activity against the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (2014)[1]. There are separate guidelines for children and young people (5 to17 years), adults (18-64 years), and older people (65 years and over).

For those people who were employed and worked in the week prior to interview, the survey collects workplace physical activity (moderate and vigorous activity) which was undertaken in the workplace in the week prior to interview. Unless noted as an exclusion, workplace activity is included in the calculation of physical activity.

The types of physical activity measured were:

  • Walking for fitness, recreation or sport
  • Walking for transport
  • Moderate activity
  • Vigorous activity
  • Strength or toning exercises.

The differences between activity types are as follows:

  • Moderate activity is activity that causes a moderate increase in heart rate or breathing (e.g. a brisk walk, strength or toning exercises, lifting small boxes and sweeping)
  • Vigorous activity causes a large increase in a person’s heart rate or breathing (e.g. playing basketball, running and lifting heavy boxes)
  • Strength or toning exercise includes lifting weights, resistance training, yoga and Pilates. This measure does not include workplace physical activity in this survey.

People aged 15-17 years

The 2014 physical activity guidelines[1] recommend that young people aged 15-17 years complete at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. The guidelines also recommend that young people include strength or toning activities on at least three days per week. 

Less than one in ten (8.9%) young people met the physical activity guidelines. More than one in four (26.8%) did at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day but it was not always moderate to vigorous activity. More than one in five (21.1%) young people did three or more days of strength or toning activities in the last week.

People aged 18-64 years

The 2014 physical activity guidelines[1] recommend that people aged 18-64 years should be active on most days of the week (interpreted as five active days in this survey). The guidelines recommend that people aged 18-64 years undertake either 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 people aged 18-64 years include strength or toning on at least 2 days per week.

Nearly one in four (24.5%) people aged 18-64 years met the physical activity guidelines. When considering the recommendations of the guidelines for people aged 18-64 years:

  • Almost six in ten (59.1%) completed 30 minutes of activity on five or more days
  • 28.2% undertook strength or toning exercises on two or more days in the last week
  • Men were more likely than women to meet the physical activity guidelines (27.0% compared to 22.3%). 

Despite three quarters (75.5%) of people aged 18-64 years not meeting the guidelines:

  • Two in three (69.7%) people undertook at least some physical activity on five or more days in the week prior to the interview
  • 73.4% did at least 150 minutes of physical activity in the week prior to the interview.

People aged 65 years and over

The 2014 physical activity guidelines[1] for adults aged 65 years and over recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all, days (interpreted as completing 30 minutes or more of physical activity five days in a week and having completed any physical activity on seven days in this survey).

In 2020-21, around four in ten (41.8%) people aged 65 years or over met the physical activity guidelines. Half (49.9%) undertook at least 30 minutes of physical activity on five or more days and a similar rate (51.2%) engaged in daily physical activity.

Physical activity and population characteristics

People aged 18 years and over living in areas of most disadvantage were less likely than those living in the least disadvantaged areas to have:

  • Engaged in some type of physical activity in the last week (78.3% compared to 92.1%)
  • Met physical activity guidelines (24.0% compared to 34.4%). 

(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 Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Australia, 2016 (abs.gov.au).

There was a similar proportion of people over 18 years old who met the guidelines among those living in Major Cities of Australia (28.3%), Inner Regional Australia (26.8%), and in Outer Regional and Remote Australia (28.5%). People aged 18 years and over living in Inner Regional Australia were more likely than people living in Major Cities of Australia to have completed no physical activity in the last week (17.4% compared to 12.3%).

People aged 18 years and over:

  • With an educational attainment of Year 10 or below were less likely than those with a bachelor’s degree or above to engage in physical activity in the last week (74.7% and 92.5% respectively)
  • With disability were twice as likely as those without disability to have completed zero minutes of physical activity in the last week (20.5% compared with 9.9%).

Type of exercise

In 2020-21, half (50.9%) of people aged 15 years and over went walking for exercise, recreation or sport (excluding workplace activity) in the week prior to the interview. Females were more likely than males to walk for exercise (52.7% and 49.0% respectively).

  • More than one in three (35.7%) people aged 15 years and over undertook moderate exercise, while 17.7% engaged in vigorous exercise
  • One in three (32.9%) people 15 years and over reported completing strength or toning exercises and 46.0% reported walking for transport.

Workplace physical activity

People who were employed and worked in the week prior to interview were asked to describe their usual workday. Almost half (49.4%) of people aged 18-64 years who were employed and worked in the last week described their day as mostly sitting, with standing (18.8%) and walking (17.5%) the next most common activities.  

  • People aged 18-24 years were least likely to report mostly sitting (23.8%) on a typical workday
  • Men aged 18-64 years were four times more likely than women to report mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work (19.4% compared to 4.4%).

Data downloads

Physical activity

Data files

Footnotes

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4364.0.00.015.

Media release

See National Health Survey 2020-21 Media release for more information.