¡sǝʇɐɯ ʎɐp,פ (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)
Australia is best known as the Land Down Under, Straya, and home to the Guinness World Record for the most underpants worn at once (266). (OK, maybe not so much that last one!)
But the nation of 25.69 million Aussies also happens to rank #7 on the list of the healthiest countries in the world, just 3 points shy of the global leader — Spain.
So, just how healthy and active are Australians? Check out these 10+ physical activities & health statistics for the internet’s favorite upside-down country.
Table of Contents
- Half of Australia’s Population Are Physically Active
- Regional Differences
- How Are Australians Getting Physical Activity?
- Physical Inactivity Contributes to Chronic Diseases
Half of Australia’s Population Are Physically Active
- The Australian government recommends 2.5–5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week for adults — or 1.25–2.5 hours of vigorous training.
- In 2018, the fittest age group was those aged 65+, with 17.2% meeting Australia’s physical activity guidelines (vs. 1.9% for the 15–17 age group and 15% for other adults).
- More than half of all 18–64-year-old Australians (55%) exercised for 150+ minutes per week in 2017–2018.
- The average Australian adult trains 42 minutes per day.
- One in four 18–64-year-olds in Australia strength-train at least twice a week.
How Do These Statistics Compare to the U.S.?
Australia’s Better Health Channel & the U.S.’s CDC both recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic training.
But in a head-to-head battle, which country is fitter?
(Because neither is the fittest country in the world. That title belongs to Finland and Uganda.)
If we’re using the 150-minute guideline as to the “gold standard,” Australia whizzes right past the U.S. A slim 1.7% more Australians hit this weekly goal than Americans (55% vs. 53.3%).
And this is a pretty wide margin over Ireland’s 46%.
Australia also wins by a landslide in the daily activity race. America’s mildly pathetic 14–24 minutes of exercise per day falls 18–24 minutes shy of Australia’s average.
However, the U.S. wins one bout: the twice-weekly strength training recommendation. While 24.9% of Australians nab this goal, a slightly higher 30.2% of U.S. adults can say the same.
And, on a totally unrelated but still semi-interesting note: the fittest age group in the U.S. is the young adults — 18–44-year-olds — while Australia’s 65-and-up seniors are the most active.
Reasons Why the Other Half Doesn’t Exercise
The fact that 1.4 billion adults across the globe — or 27.5% of adults — don’t hit that 150-minute weekly milestone makes Australia’s 55% active rate unexpectedly impressive.
But what’s stopping the other 45% of Aussies from lacing up their runners and pounding the pavement? Or starting a weightlifting routine? Hell, even signing up for a CrossFit class?
A 2018 Heart Foundation poll of 1,025 Aussies may have just solved that mystery. The survey results identified these as the most common excuses for Australians not exercising:
- Not enough time (33%)
- Illness or injury (19%)
- The weather (17%)
- Feelings of being “too fat” (17%)
- Disliking exercise (17%)
- Not having enough money (17%)
We say “excuses” because they’re either really easy to poke holes through or have obvious solutions (i.e., one-third have no time when, in reality, 21% of an Australian’s day is free time.)
- In Western Australia (WA), 18.1% of adults were completely inactive, while another 59% participated in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- In South Australia and Victoria, 70% of men and 79% of women did not meet Australia’s physical activity recommendations.
Explaining the Surprising Regional Differences
The Land Down Under is home to six federated states (or regions), each unique in its own way. But we can link the region-to-region exercise differences to possible factors like:
Country vs. City Careers
Aussies living in rural areas are more likely to pursue labor-intensive careers requiring longer hours and manual labor, such as agriculture and mining.
Meanwhile, urbanites typically hold down more office or desk jobs.
Despite these facts, Australians living in remote areas are actually at 1.16x greater risk of being sedentary than city-slickers, partially because many rural workers view their jobs as “exercise.”
Availability of Transportation
In rural areas like Wagga Wagga and Griffith, where obesity rates are nearing 70%, locals blame the access to cars for the 81% of Aussies not getting exercise.
Compare that to Sydney — one of the largest Australian cities and among the top ten priciest cities to live in across the globe — and its 14% obesity rate.
While city-dwellers and suburban-livers can walk to their destinations, country residents are more likely to drive and park right out front.
Income & Spending
Not all Australian metropolises have low obesity rates and high activity levels. In fact, the connection between highly populated cities and health often comes down to the wealth factor.
Wealthier cities and suburbs — like Darwin and Perth — have more access to walking trails, fresh fruits and vegetables, and offices within walking distance.
Well-off Aussies are also more likely to be able to afford the sporting gear and a gym membership than those without disposable income.
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How Are Australians Getting Physical Activity?
- The age groups most likely to visit Australian fitness clubs were 18–24 (47%), 25–35 (45%), 35–44 (38%), and 65+ (33%).
- Eighty-nine percent of Australians aged 15 and up participated in sports.
- Men were more likely to engage in sport-related activities than women (69% vs. 54%).
- Most Australian children were physically active through sports (68%) or after-school activities (71%).
- Yoga is twice as popular in Australia today as it was eight years ago, with 10% of those aged 14 and older practicing yoga.
Most Popular Types of Exercise In Australia
In 2015, Australian Fitbit users in the 18–55 age group ranked their favorite training styles as running, biking, resistance training, swimming, and circuit training.
The very next year, the Heart Foundation’s National Physical Activity Plan polled 1,001 Australian adults and asked about their training habits.
These were the top seven types of exercise Aussies wanted to try or do more of:
- Walking (65%)
- Swimming (38%)
- Gym training (26%)
- Jogging or running (23%)
- Yoga or pilates (21%)
- Cycling (19%)
- Dancing (16%)
Out of ten possible options (golf, tennis, and netball were the other three), walking was the only exercise that more than 1% of Aussies performed daily. (Eleven percent walked every day.)
Why Australians Are So Healthy (Even If They’re Not Active Enough)
Despite producing sports legends like NBA star Ben Simmons and tennis sensation Nick Krygios, the idea that all Australians are fit is — unfortunately — an inaccurate stereotype.
In fact, two-thirds of the adult population was either obese or overweight in 2017–18. But the nationwide “obsession” with sports is likely due to:
There’s one gym for every 4,581 Aussies in Australia, with 5,607 fitness clubs across the island.
For perspective: the U.S. has 32,000 gyms and a rate of one gym per every 10,000 adults, making the availability of fitness clubs in Australia more than double the rate in the U.S.
Aussies also take full advantage of their local fitness clubs. As many as 47.1% of Australians in the 18–24 age group visited a gym in 2020.
Deeply Rooted Sports Culture
The sports craze in Australia is far from new. The Aussie obsession with sports dates back more than two centuries, and 80% of Australians consider sports a part of the nation’s culture.
(Just don’t say they’re “obsessed.”)
The weather in the tourist hotspot is also tough to beat.
Australians have more opportunities to go outdoors and get active, with temperatures rarely dipping below 50°F and fewer rainy days per year (i.e., 89 rainy days in Brisbane).
Starting Sports Young
Australia is also one of the world leaders in youth sports participation.
In 2017, one-quarter of children participated in sports outside of school hours 3+ times per week, with swimming (31.8%), soccer (14.1%), and Australian football (8.8%) leading the pack.
Not to mention Aussie children are exposed to sports at a much younger age than other nations. By age 5–8, 80% of girls 83% of boys in Australia will participate in athletics.
Fit adults are also more likely to pass this healthy habit down to their children. Three in four physically active children in Australia have at least one active parent.
Physical Inactivity Contributes to Chronic Diseases
- Sixty-seven percent of Australian adults were either overweight or obese in 2017–2017, while 47% of adults had at least one chronic health condition.
- From 2014 to 2017, the adult obesity rates in Australia climbed from 27.9% to 31.3%.
- The Australian government discovered a link between physical inactivity and 10–20% of the disease burden for diabetes, bowel cancer, uterine cancer, dementia, breast cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Why Are Australians Becoming More Unhealthy?
We can’t blame a sedentary lifestyle for all of Australia’s declining health trends. But research shows that even ten minutes of exercise a week can lower your risk of early death by 18%.
The state of Australia’s health is more of a tangled web of factors.
Aussie’s life expectancy is actually on a gradual upward swing, climbing from 81.70 in 2010 to 82.90 in 2019. So Australians live about 10.3 years longer than the global average.
Yet, a survey of 5,000 Australians proves that Australia isn’t out of the woods just yet. In fact, the 2017 research revealed that fewer than one in ten (7%) of Aussies were truly “healthy.”
We can make a few guesses as to why.
While daily cigarette smokers declined from 25% in 1991 to 11.6% in 2019, those who smoke average about 12.9 cigarettes per day. Smoking is also Australia’s #1 disease burden (9.3%).
Alcohol is another health concern on the island of 25 million. Some 40% of Aussies drink alcohol at least once per week, with 12% consuming alcohol 5–7 days per week.
The final nail in the coffin (both literally and metaphorically) is the diet factor.
The affordability and availability of health-conscious food are the main culprits. More than half of packaged food in Aussie supermarkets is unhealthy and goes on sale twice as often.
Most Common Chronic Health Conditions In Australia
Australia’s love-hate relationship with fitness and healthy diets encourages the surge in chronic health conditions across the adult population.
In 2017–18, these were the most common long-term conditions in Aussies:
- Mental or behavioral problems (20.1%)
- Back issues (16.4%)
- Arthritis (15.%)
- Asthma (11.2%)
- Diabetes (4.9%)
- Heart disease or stroke (4.8%)
- Osteoporosis (3.8%)
What’s absolutely bonkers is that physical activity can lessen the risk (or reduce the severity) of many of these diseases and conditions.
For example, aerobic training can improve lung strength (asthma), exercise can help regulate blood sugar (diabetes), and weightlifting can prevent bone loss (osteoporosis).
If you have — or suspect you have — any of these chronic health conditions, please talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.
What Percentage of Australians Regularly Exercise?
A lick over 17% of Australians exercises regularly enough to meet the Aussie government’s strength and cardio guidelines in 2017–18. In 2019, 22.98% of Australians admitted to doing no exercise, while just over half exercised for 1–6 hours per week.
Australia somehow manages to be remarkably fit, yet also concerningly unhealthy, though we could probably say the same about any “first world” country.
The best — and easiest — ways to improve your health and prolong your expectancy are:
- Working out, whether it’s a home gym with a bench press and a squat rack or a membership at one of Australia’s 5,000+ gyms
- Quitting cigarettes and limiting your alcohol consumption
- Swapping out unhealthy junk food for more fruits, vegetables, and fresh meals
- Limiting your screen time and going outdoors for a change
- Walking instead of driving (for destinations within a few kilometers)
Otherwise, you might just become one of these statistics.
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