Physical activity and sedentary behaviour

Being physically active is important for health and wellbeing (external site) regardless of age, and doing any physical activity is better than doing none.

Being physically active can provide a range of social, emotional and health benefits.

Physical activity reduces the risk (external site) of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • some cancers and
  • type 2 diabetes.

And helps to:

  • improve musculoskeletal health
  • maintain body weight
  • reduce symptoms of depression.

Additionally, it can:

  • create opportunities for socialising and meeting new people
  • help you sleep better
  • develop and maintain overall physical and mental well-being.

Physical activity is also important for children’s (external site) healthy growth and development. For children and young people, being physically active every day can:

  • provide opportunities for fun
  • reduce anti-social behaviour
  • improve self-esteem and confidence
  • promote healthy growth and development
  • develop strong muscles and bones
  • reduce the risk of disease and unhealthy weight gain.

People who do no physical activity are advised to start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount (external site).

People may plan to be physically active through sport, or recreation and activity may happen in an unstructured way through:

  • working
  • playing
  • doing household jobs
  • gardening
  • walking
  • cycling.

Limiting sedentary behaviour can also bring about additional health benefits. Sedentary leisure-time activity, such as television viewing, is strongly associated with both overweight and obesity.

How much physical activity gives these benefits?

There are national physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines (external site) available which provide recommendations for children, young people, adults and older people.

The weekly recommendation for adults aged 18-64 is:

  • be active on most, preferably all, days every week
  • accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
  • do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week
  • minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting
  • break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.

For children 5 to 17 years, Australian guidelines (external site) recommend:

  • at least 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per day involving mainly aerobic activities
  • several hours of a variety of light physical activities
  • activities that are vigorous, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone should be incorporated at least 3 days per week
  • to achieve greater health benefits, replace sedentary time with additional moderate to vigorous physical activity, while preserving sufficient sleep
  • break up long periods of sitting as often as possible
  • limit sedentary recreational screen time to no more than 2 hours per day
  • when using screen-based electronic media, positive social interactions and experiences are encouraged
  • an uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night for those aged 5-13 years and 8 to 10 hours per night for those aged 14-17 years.
Last reviewed: 04-06-2020