Covid-19 studies, Our research

Australians fail to meet physical activity guidelines during pandemic

Keep moving people! 

The majority of Australians didn’t meet suggested physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines during the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions. That’s what Dr Brea Kunstler found by looking into physical activity data from the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) – a global study, which BehaviourWorks leads in Australia.

In April this year, 70 per cent of the 1,084 adults surveyed did not meet the aerobic components of the Australian Government physical activity guidelines and 60 per cent did not meet the strength components. 

The results, which have been published in a paper entitled, Physical activity and sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic: An Australian population study also showed that young adults participated in more strength activities than older adults.

Dr Kunstler told Monash Media that she believes this could be due to the introduction of online home exercise classes that can be completed without leaving home and are more accessible to younger adults who are proficient with computers and the internet (e.g. using video platforms like Zoom).

Males were found to be slightly more active than females and alarmingly, one in five Australians did not participate in any physical activity such as walking or cycling. The study also found adults spent more time sedentary than in studies conducted outside of the pandemic, with respondents aged 18-29 the most sedentary and those aged 60-69 being the least sedentary.

Sedentary behaviours

Food delivery services and the proliferation of television and movie streaming options are being attributed to the increase in sedentary behaviour among young people.

The study also revealed fewer respondents from regional Australia met the aerobic and strength guidelines compared to city dwellers but did participate in less sedentary behaviour.

This could be due to occupational differences and the ability to better social distance in non-urban areas, allowing for participation in more activities outside of the home.

Applying the lessons 

Dr Brea Kunstler said the results of her study weren’t surprising, but they were useful to help authorities communicate the importance of moving.

“Australian adults rarely meet physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines,” she said.

“It is to be expected that meeting the guidelines could be more difficult during a pandemic but that’s not to say it should be accepted.”

The recent surge of cases and the return of lockdowns shouldn’t deter people from exercising, for the sake of their physical and mental health, she added.

“Those of us in stage 3 restrictions can still leave the house for exercise, and for the rest of Australia that has had eased restrictions, increasing physical activity and decreasing sedentary behaviours should be a priority to protect our mental and physical health during a challenging time for health globally,” said Dr Kunstler.

“We need to remember that poor health behaviours now can negatively affect our habits and general health in the future.”

The Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines are set by the Australian Government and encourage Australian adults aged 18-64 years to participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity as well as two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities weekly.

Research has also suggested that adults should spend less than nine hours being sedentary each day to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

These results formed part of the second wave of the global SCRUB project. To view other results, click here.