Published 15 Sep, 2022

It is well established that physical activity is essential for good health and well-being. Physical activity can decrease the risk of developing cancer1-3 and improve cardiovascular fitness, maintain bone mineral density, and increase resilience to stress.4 Physical activity is also important to prevent excess body weight, which is another risk factor associated with cancer.4   

The 2011 Australian Burden of Disease Study indicated that physical inactivity contributed 6.4% of the disease burden for cancer.5 It is estimated that 5% of cancers in the United States are linked to lack of regular exercise6 or sedentary lifestyles.7 Globally, it has been estimated that 135,000 deaths from cancer occur each year due to physical inactivity.8 Approximately 21-25% of colon and breast cancers globally are attributed primarily to physical inactivity.9

    Charts

    The measure "proportion of people aged 18 years and over who have insufficient exercise" is derived from activity such as:

    (1) participation in less than 150 minutes or less than five sessions of physical activity (including walking for fitness/transport, or having moderate and/or vigorous physical activity, in the previous week); and

    (2) having less than 150 minutes of physical activity or less than 5 sessions (including no physical activity). Collectively, this group will be referred in the report as ‘insufficiently active’.  

    Where relevant, rates were age-standardised in this report to account for differences in age structure over time. Age-standardisation was also applied for comparisons between population groups, including:

    (1) Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; and

    (2) residents by area of remoteness; and

    (3) level of socioeconomic disadvantage.

    The Australian Department of Health released Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour guidelines in 2014. These state adults (aged 18 to 64 years) should be active most days, and preferably every day. A minimum of 150 minutes (to 300 minutes) each week of physical activity should be undertaken, which can include activity such as walking, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming; or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer, or netball; or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.

    The guidelines also include muscle-strengthening activities (i.e., push-ups, squats, weightlifting) as part of your daily physical activity on at least 2 days each week.10 As of 2017/2018, reporting against these guidelines is also provided.

    In 201718, 9.6 million Australian adults (53.7% of the adult population) were insufficiently active (Chart 1).12 Females were marginally more likely to be insufficiently active than males (54.6% compared with 52.8%).

    Levels of insufficient physical activity tended to increase with age, with the highest proportion presenting in people aged 75 years and over (70.9%) (Chart 1).12  

    Guideline adherence

    In 2020-21, 75.5% of Australians aged 18-64 years had less than the recommended weekly physical activity (including workplace as well as other physical activity).10, 11

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

    In 2012-13, 64.4% of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults were insufficiently active, with higher proportions of insufficiently active occurring among females than males (67.5% compared with 61.2%) (Chart 2).16

    After adjusting for differences in age structure between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous Australians were more likely to be insufficiently active than their non-Indigenous counterparts (64.4% compared with 55.6%) (Chart 3).12 While Indigenous females were more likely to be insufficiently active than their non-Indigenous counterparts, and a similar pattern was observed for males, the difference for males was comparatively small and attributable to chance.  

    In 2020-21, 88.4% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders aged over 18 years did not meet physical activity levels specified as sufficient in physical activity guidelines.13

    Remoteness and socioeconomic disadvantage

    In 2017-18 levels of insufficient physical activity varied according to remoteness and level of socioeconomic disadvantage. After adjusting for differences in age structure across sub-populations, adults in Inner Regional (58.7%), and Outer Regional and Remote Australia (62.8%) were more likely to be insufficiently active than those living in Major Cities (51.3%) (Chart 4).11 This was so for both males (63.1% in Outer and remote compared with 49.5% in Major cities) and females (62.1% compared with 53.0%). Among residents of Major Cities, insufficient physical activity was more common among females than males (53.0% compared with 49.5%)Insufficient activity was more common among residents of Inner Regional areas at 57% in females vs 60% in males.

    A social gradient of insufficient physical activity was evident in 2017-18. After adjusting for differences in age structure, people living in areas of most disadvantage (64.8%) were 1.5 times more likely to be insufficiently active than those living in areas of least disadvantage (42.5%) (Chart 5).12  

    This measure shows the proportion of adults aged 18 years and over who participated in less than 150 minutes or less than five sessions of physical activity and those who did no physical activity in the previous week. Physical activity includes activity such as walking for fitness/transport, moderate and/or vigorous physical activity.

    Numerator: Number of persons aged 18 years and over who participated in less than 150 minutes or less than five sessions and those who did no physical activity in the previous week.

    Denominator: Number of persons aged 18 years and over including those who reported ‘Not stated/Not known’.

    Data are sourced from 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, 2012-13 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey and 2014-15, 2017-18 National Health Surveys. 

    In the 2016 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage, attributes summarised by this index include low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and jobs in relatively unskilled occupations. 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.

    2014 Physical activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines

    The below table outlines the recommendations made by The Guidelines for persons aged between 18-64 years and 65 years and older.

      Recommendations 18 to 64 years

    65 years and older

    Physical activity

    Be active on most (preferably all) days, to weekly total of: 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity or an equivalent combination of both

    At least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most (preferably all) days.

    Strength At least 2 days a week.

    Do a range of activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.

    Sedentary time

    Minimise and break up long periods of sitting.

     

    Data caveats:

    • In 2012-13, collection of physical activity and sedentary behaviour data in the previous week was collected from adults in non-remote areas only.
    • People who reported ‘Not known/Not stated’, with respect to their level of physical activity in the previous week, are included in the denominator

     

    Activity in this area

    Data

    Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2015. 4364.00.55.001 – National Health Survey, 2017-18. Accessed November 2021; http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/PrimaryMainFeatures/4364.0.55.001?OpenDocument

    Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2014. 4727.0.55.004 – Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2012-13. Accessed November 2021; http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4727.0.55.004main+features12012-13

    Policy

    Department of Health. 2014. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. Department of Health: Canberra. https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians/for-adults-18-to-64-years

    References

    1. Cust AE, Armstrong BK, Friedenreich CM, Slimani N, Bauman A. Physical activity and endometrial cancer risk: a review of the current evidence, biologic mechanisms and the quality of physical activity assessment methods. Cancer causes & control : CCC. 2007;18(3):243-58. Epub 2007/01/09.

    2. Lee IM. Physical activity and cancer prevention--data from epidemiologic studies. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2003;35(11):1823-7. Epub 2003/11/06.

    3. National Cancer Institute. Physical Activity and Cancer. Bethesda: NCI; 2009 [Accessed 20 October 2016]; Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet.

    4. Cancer Australia. Physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Sydney: Cancer Australia; 2015 [Accessed 18 October 2016]; Available at: https://canceraustralia.gov.au/publications-and-resources/position-statements/lifestyle-risk-factors-and-primary-prevention-cancer/lifestyle-risk-factors/physical-activity-and-sedentary-behaviour.

    5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 3. BOD 4. Canberra: AIHW; 2016 [Accessed 18 October 2016]; Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129555476.

    6. Colditz GA, Wolin KY, Gehlert S. Applying what we know to accelerate cancer prevention. Sci Transl Med. 2012;4(127):127rv4.

    7. Dart H, Wolin KY, Colditz GA. Commentary: eight ways to prevent cancer: a framework for effective prevention messages for the public. Cancer causes & control : CCC. 2012;23(4):601-8. Epub 2012/03/01.

    8. Danaei G, Vander Hoorn S, Lopez AD, Murray CJ, Ezzati M, Comparative Risk Assessment collaborating g. Causes of cancer in the world: comparative risk assessment of nine behavioural and environmental risk factors. Lancet. 2005;366(9499):1784-93. Epub 2005/11/22.

    9. World Health Organization. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Geneva: WHO; 2016 [Accessed 18 October 2016]; Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/pa/en/.

    10. Australian Government, Department of Health. Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (2014). Australian Government: Canberra. [Accessed June 2022]; Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians/for-adults-18-to-64-years

    11. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2022. 4364.0.55.001– National Health Survey: Health Conditions Prevalence, 2020-21. Accessed June 2022; available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/health-conditions-prevalence/2020-21

    12. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2018. 4364.00.55.001 – National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. Accessed June 2022; available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001

    13. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2019. 4715.0 – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, 2018-19. Accessed June 2022; available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4715.0

    14. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Canberra: ABS; 2015 [Accessed September 27 2016]; 

    15. 4324.0.55.001 - Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014-15 [database on the Internet]. ABS. 2016 [Accessed 27 September 2016].

    16. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4727.0.55.004 - Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Physical activity, 2012–13. Canberra: ABS; 2014 [Accessed 18 October 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4727.0.55.004main+features12012-13.

    17. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4324.0.55.002 - Microdata: Australian Health Survey: Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2011-12. Canberra: ABS; 2013 [Accessed 18 October 2016]; Available at: http://abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4324.0.55.002Main+Features12011-12.

     

    Summary

    In 2017-18, 9.6 million Australian adults were regarded as insufficiently active.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to be insufficiently active than non-Indigenous people.

    People living in Major Cities were less likely to be insufficiently active compared with those living in other regions

    In the age range of 18-64 years, 75.5% of Australian persons did not meet the 2014 physical activity guidelines in 2020-21.