- + Key points: Physical activity
Latest available information
Latest available data for adults in NSW
• In New South Wales, 38.5% of adults aged 16 years and over (35.5% of men and 41.4% of women) undertook insufficient levels of physical activity (less than 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity a week, or 150 minutes of activity, or more, over fewer than five sessions a week), as estimated from the 2019 NSW Population Health Survey (self-reported using Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing or CATI).
• Nationally, 17.8% of persons aged 18 years and over (19.8% of males and 15.8% of females) in NSW were sufficiently active in the last week (more than 300 minutes of physical activity over five sessions), as estimated from the 2017-18 National Health Survey (interviewer-administered questionnaire).
• Depending on the design, implementation, achieved response rates and target population, different surveys purporting to measure the same outcome can arrive at different conclusions. However, most surveys will generally produce broadly consistent estimates when comparing sub-groups, such as sex or age, within each survey. For measurements that are reliant on activities undertaken "in the last week", continuous surveys provide a means of capturing consistent data over the year without being subject to seasonal influences.
Latest available data for secondary school students in NSW
• 18.6% of students aged 12-17 years (21.8% of boys and 15.5% of girls) undertook adequate levels of physical activity, as estimated from the 2017 NSW School Students Health Behaviours Survey (self-completed questionnaire).
• 12% of adolescents aged 13-18 years (15% of boys and 8% of girls) met the recommended daily physical activity level of at least 60 minutes in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity on every day of the week, as estimated from the 2015 NSW School Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS).
Latest available data for children in NSW
• 23.0% of children aged 5-15 years (26.1% of boys and 19.6% of girls) achieved adequate levels of physical activity, as estimated from the 2018-2019 NSW Population Health Survey (parent-reported using CATI).
Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Health Survey: First Results (4364.0.55.001); NSW Tables, 2017-18. Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/allprimarymainfeatures/F6CE5715FE4AC1B1CA257AA30014C725?opendocument
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, NSW Ministry of Health. NSW Adult Population Health Survey. Available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/surveys/adult/Pages/default.aspx
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, NSW Ministry of Health. NSW School Students Health Behaviours Survey. Available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/surveys/student/Pages/default.aspx
Hardy L. SPANS 2015 - NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS) - Full Report, University of Sydney, 2016. Available at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/heal/Publications/spans-2015-full-report.PDF
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, NSW Ministry of Health. NSW Child Population Health Survey. Available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/surveys/child/Pages/default.aspx
- + Background : Physical activity
Physical inactivity as a health risk factor
Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles, that requires energy expenditure. Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally (WHO 2012).
Physical activity is an important factor in maintaining good health at any age. People with sufficient physical activity have lower rates of preventable morbidity and mortality than those who are physically inactive. Regular moderate intensity physical activity – such as walking, cycling, or participating in sports – has significant benefits for health. For instance, it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and depression. Moreover adequate levels of physical activity will decrease the risk of a hip or vertebral fracture and help control weight (WHO 2012).
There is strong evidence for the beneficial effects of moderate to vigorous physical activity on children and adolescents musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health, adiposity, blood lipid levels, social and mental health, and academic performance (Strong et al., 2005).
Definition of sufficient physical activity
To maintain good health, the National physical activity guidelines for adults recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week. Moderate intensity activity includes brisk walking, dancing, swimming, or cycling, which can be undertaken in shorter bursts such as 3 lots of 10 minutes (AGDHA, 1999 and 2005).
Australian recommendations for levels of physical activity in young people are at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day (AGDHA, 2004).
Burden of disease in Australia due to physical inactivity
Physical inactivity was responsible for 2.5% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2015 (AIHW, 2019), contributing significant burden to breast cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and stroke (Begg et al, 2007). Physical activity is a preventive factor for cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes mellitus and injury.
It is increasingly difficult for children and adolescents to participate in a physically active lifestyle in Australia. An increase in sedentary recreational activities, such as watching television and videos and playing computer games, coupled with a culture of driving children to school and other activities instead of walking or cycling, have all contributed to creating an environment that encourages more sedentary pursuits (Booth, 2000).
- + Interventions: Physical activity
The NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy 2013-2018 provides a whole of government framework to promote and support healthy eating and active living in NSW and to reduce the impact of lifestyle-related chronic disease.
The Strategy has four key strategic directions:
• environments to support healthy eating and active living
• statewide healthy eating and active living support programs
• healthy eating and active living advice as part of routine service delivery
• education and information to enable informed, healthy choices.
- + For more information: Physical activity
Useful websites include:
Australian Bureau of Statistics at http://www.abs.gov.au
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare at http://www.aihw.gov.au
healthdirect at http://www.healthdirect.gov.au
National Health and Medical Research Council. Clinical practice guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents and children in Australia. Melbourne: National Health and Medical Research Council, 2013. Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n57
NSW Department of Education and Training and NSW Department of Health. Live Life Well @ School. NSW Department of Education and Training & NSW Department of Health website. Cited on 1 October 2010. Available at: http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/live_life/index.htm
NSW Government. Good for kids. Good for life. NSW Government website. Cited on 1 October 2010. Available at: http://www.goodforkids.nsw.gov.au/parents-carers
NSW Government: NSW Department of Health, NSW Department of Education and Training, Sport and Recreation, a division of Communities NSW and the Heart Foundation. Munch and Move. NSW Government website. Cited on 1 October 2010. Available at: http://www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au/campaigns-programs/about-munch-move.aspx