Level of physical exercise

Why is reporting on physical activity important?

The importance of regular physical activity to the health and wellbeing of young people is well established (Brown et al. 2013). Physical activity is known to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and also positively affects cardiovascular risk factors such as overweight or obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes (AIHW 2015). It protects against some forms of cancer, and strengthens the musculoskeletal system (AIHW 2014; Okely et al. 2012). Physical activity may also improve an adolescent’s psychosocial wellbeing by reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, and through improvements in self-confidence, self esteem, energy levels, sleep quality and ability to concentrate (Okely et al. 2012).

The ABS Australian Health Survey categorises physical exercise into four levels: high, moderate, low and sedentary (no exercise or very low levels of exercise) (ABS 2013). The sedentary level represents individuals who may particularly benefit from increased levels of exercise.

Do activity levels vary across population groups?

In 2011–12 more than 1 in 4 young people aged 12–24 years were sedentary (27%), and levels of sedentary behaviour rose with increasing age (21% of 15–17 year olds and 29% of 18–24 year olds). Females were more likely to be sedentary than males with 31% and 24%, respectively. Similarly, Indigenous young people were more likely to be sedentary than non-Indigenous young people (39% compared to 29%).

There were significant differences in each level of physical exercise between males and females. Females had higher proportions of low-level physical exercise than males (39% compared to 22%). Conversely, males were more likely to have moderate (26% compared to 19%) or high levels (28% compared to 11%) of physical exercise than females. A significantly higher proportion of non-Indigenous young people had high levels of physical exercise compared with Indigenous young people (19% and 14%, respectively).

Has there been a change over time?

The ABS Australian Health Survey 2011–12 showed that in the 4 years since the previous survey there was a significant reduction in the proportion of all young people reporting sedentary behaviour, from 33% to 27%. This decline was consistent among the different population groups examined, however, the only statistically significant reductions over this period were for 18–24 year olds (36% to 29%) and males (30% to 24%).