Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Physical activity, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 November 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Physical activity. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/physical-activity
Physical activity. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/physical-activity
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Physical activity [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Nov. 27]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/physical-activity
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Physical activity, viewed 27 November 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/physical-activity
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How many young people are sufficiently active?
How has physical activity changed over time?
How many young people are doing enough muscle strengthening activity?
What motivates young people to participate in physical activity?
What are the barriers to participating in physical activity?
Do physical activity and muscle strengthening activities vary by population?
Reducing sedentary behaviour and participating in physical activity are essential to health, development and psychosocial wellbeing. Physical activity:
Adequate good-quality sleep, in addition to physical activity, assists in academic achievement and cognition, and improves mental health and emotional regulation (see About physical activity and exercise) (Brand & Kirov 2011; DoH 2021a, 2021b).
Leading a balanced and active lifestyle is also important for cardiorespiratory, metabolic and musculoskeletal health, and plays a critical role in preventing and treating non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers (WHO 2010).
Australia has developed Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines which recommend reducing time spent undertaking sedentary activities and advise the amount of physical activity required for young people to achieve health benefits (DoH 2021a, 2021b). Australia has different physical activity guidelines for different age groups. The guidelines related to young people aged 15–24 are:
These guidelines are summarised in Table 1.
15–17 year olds
18–24 year olds
Accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, involving mainly aerobic activities at least 3 days per week
Several hours of light physical activities
Incorporate vigorous activities at least 3 days per week
Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities each week
Be active on most, preferably all, days every week
Sedentary or recreational screen-based activity
No more than 120 minutes of recreational screen use per day
Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible
Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting
Muscle and bone strengthening activities at least 3 times a week
Muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days a week
Uninterrupted 8–10 hours of sleep per night
Consistent bed and wake-up times
No specific guidelines
Source: DoH 2021c, 2021d.
For the purposes of this report, sufficient physical activity is defined as:
ABS National Health Survey
The National Health Survey (NHS) collects a range of information about the health of Australians in all states and territories across urban, rural and remote areas (excluding very remote areas). Physical activity and muscle strengthening data are from the 2017–18 NHS, which surveyed around 21,000 participants in over 16,000 private dwellings. Time-series data for physical activity come from the NHS for 2007–08, 2011–12, 2014–15 and 2017–18.
Data on young people were collected from an adult, nominated by the household, for the interview. Where permission was granted by a parent or guardian, children aged 15–17 were interviewed in person.
Physical activity was based on activity completed in the week before responding to this survey.
Physical activity in the workplace and time series
The NHS 2017–18 was the first iteration of the survey to collect information on workplace physical activity. Except for time-series analysis, physical activity data reported in this section include physical activity undertaken in the workplace.
Data on young people’s participation in organised sport and physical recreation come from the AusPlay survey, a nationally representative tracking survey funded and led by the Australian Sports Commission. Since October 2015, data have been collected continuously with an annual target sample of 20,000 adults aged 15 and over, and approximately 3,600 children aged 0–14. Data collection for AusPlay is continuous, with telephone interviews conducted every week and data aggregated over the year.
Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study, which began in 2004 and follows the development of Australian children. Population estimates from the LSAC represent the population of Australian children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004 (B cohort), and those born between March 1999 and February 2000 (K cohort). Data are not representative of children who migrated to Australia.
The 2 cohorts totalled >10,000 children at the outset of the study (in 2004). The survey collects information on physical and mental health; education; and social, cognitive and emotional development. The data are sourced from parents, child carers, educators and the children themselves.
The following analysis of physical activity includes workplace activity (see Box 1 for more information).
In 2017–18, based on self-reported data from the NHS it is estimated that:
The higher proportion of 18–24 year olds who were sufficiently active is largely due to the different physical activity guidelines for this age group compared with those for 15–17 year olds (150 minutes of physical activity across the week compared with 420 minutes).
The most recent data available on young people who met the sedentary screen‑based behaviour are from the Australian Health Survey (AHS): Nutrition and physical activity, 2011–12. Findings show that almost 1 in 5 (19%) 15–17 year olds met the sedentary screen-based behaviour (AIHW 2018). As mentioned earlier, there are not specific sedentary behaviour guidelines for 18–24 year olds.
Note: Data include workplace physical activity.
Source: ABS 2019.
The following analysis of physical activity over time excludes workplace activity (see Box 1 for more information).
In 2017–18, the proportion of 15–17 year olds who were sufficiently active was similar to that for 2007–08 (10% and 12%, respectively) (Figure 2). However, the proportion has fluctuated over time, dropping between 2011–12 and 2014–15 (from 16% to 5.8%) before returning to 10% in 2017–18. The drop between 2011–12 and 2014–15 applied to both males and females aged 15–17.
Note: Data exclude workplace physical activity.
Source: ABS 2019.
The proportion of young people aged 18–24 who were sufficiently active was higher in 2017–18 than in 2007–08 (41% and 35%) (Figure 3). The greatest increase over time was between 2014–15 and 2017–18 (from 35% to 41%). The proportion of females aged 18–24 who were sufficiently active was higher in 2017–18 than in 2007–08 (41% and 33%).
Note: Data exclude workplace physical activity.
Source: ABS 2009; 2013; 2016; 2019.
In 2017–18, based on self–reported data from the NHS:
The muscle strengthening guidelines differs by age group.
Source: ABS 2019.
The 2019 AusPlay survey asked people aged 15 and over whether they had participated in any physical activities for sport, for exercise, or for recreation in the last 12 months. The proportion of young people who participated at least once a week was:
The most popular activities for young people aged 15–17 were:
For those aged 18–24, the most popular activities were
(a) Athletics, track and field includes jogging and running.
Note: Data based on participation in activities at least once a year.
Source: ASC 2020.
In 2019, the top motivators for participating in physical activity among young people aged 15–17 and 18–24 differed:
The most commonly reported barriers to participation in physical activity for those aged 18–24 were:
In 2017–18, the proportion of young people aged 15–24 who undertook sufficient physical activity was higher in:
The proportion of young people who undertook sufficient muscle strengthening activities was higher in:
Note: Socio-economic areas are based on quintiles of the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) 2016 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage.
Source: ABS 2019.
Getting enough sleep is important for a young person’s health, regulation of emotions and school functioning (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). The amount of sleep needed varies with age. The Department of Health recommends between 8 and 10 hours for young people aged 14–17 (DoH 2021c). The Sleep Health Foundation also recommends keeping a regular sleep–wake routine (Sleep Health Foundation 2011).
Based on research from the LSAC, in 2016, over half (52%) of those aged 16–17 did not get the required amount of sleep on school nights (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). Non-school nights provide opportunities to catch up on sleep missed during the week (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).
Young people aged 16–17 slept an average of 8.1 hours on school nights, and over an hour longer on non-school nights (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). Among those aged 16–17, on non-school nights, females slept for longer than males (9.4 hours compared with 9.1 hours), but there was little difference on school nights (8.1 and 8.0 hours, respectively) (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).
Among young people aged 16–17, 13% of males and 20% of females reported that they had poor quality sleep (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).
For information on topics related to physical activity in this report, see:
For information on Indigenous young people and physical activity, see:
For information on children and physical activity, see:
Physical activity in Australia’s Children
For more information on:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2009. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2007–08. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Findings based on detailed microdata analysis. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2013. Microdata: Australian Health Survey, National Health Survey, 2011–12. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Findings based on detailed microdata analysis. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2016. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Findings based on detailed microdata analysis. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Findings based on detailed microdata analysis. Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Physical activity across the life stages. Cat. no. PHE 225. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 April 2021.
ASC (Australian Sports Commission) 2020. AusPlay Survey national results 2019. Canberra: ASC. Viewed 6 May 2020.
Brand S & Kirov R 2011. Sleep and its importance in adolescence and in common adolescent somatic and psychiatric conditions. International Journal of General Medicine 4:425–42. Viewed 16 April 2021.
DoH (Department of Health) 2021a. Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 11 May 2021.
DoH 2021b. About physical activity and exercise. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 11 May 2021.
DoH 2021c. For children and young people (5 to 17 years). Canberra: DoH. Viewed 11 May 2021.
DoH 2021d. For adults (18 to 64 years). Canberra: DoH. Viewed 11 May 2021.
Evans-Whipp T & Gasser C 2019. Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Annual Statistical Report 2018. Chapter 4: Are children and adolescents getting enough sleep? Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Viewed 16 April 2021.
Sleep Health Foundation 2011. Good sleep habits. Viewed 26 February 2021.
WHO (World Health Organization) 2010. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva: WHO. Viewed 12 August 2020.
For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.
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