The Evidence

The Cost Of Inactivity

Physical inactivity is the second ‘leading modifiable health risk factor contributing to the burden of disease and injury in Australia’, tobacco control is the first.

The World Health Organisation identifies Physical inactivity as “the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, contributing to 6% of deaths” (2010). Furthermore 30% of the global ischaemic heart disease burden, 27% of diabetes and 21% to 25% of breast and colon cancer burden is attributable to physical inactivity (WHO).1

In Australia, over 16,000 people die prematurely each year due to physical inactivity. Globally physical inactivity is estimated to cause two millions deaths each year.

The cost of physical inactivity to the Australian economy is estimated to be $13.8 billion, which includes the healthcare costs, lost productivity and mortality (lost future output).

Direct health care costs due to physical inactivity totalled almost $1.5 billion in 2006-2007 in Australia, including $469 million attributable to falls, $372 million to coronary heart disease, $211 million to type 2 diabetes, $177 million to depression symptoms, $162 million to stroke, $103 million to breast and colon cancers.3

Physical Activity And Health

Exercise improves health through its various benefits, such as a decreased risk of chronic disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, body fat, stress and anxiety, depression and dementia, and improved metabolic processes, movements of joints and muscles, oxygen delivery throughout the body, strength and endurance, motor skills, sleeping patterns, weight control, concentration, self-esteem, confidence and sense of well-being.

Conversely, the lack of physical activity is a risk factor for colon, breast, endometrium, lung, pancreas and ovarian cancers. 30-60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity is beneficial to decrease the risk of cancer.

Lack of physical activity is also associated with the overweight and obesity. According to 2011/12 National Health Survey, 63% of adults were either overweight or obese (over 25% of these were obese). The rates of obesity amongst adults has doubled over the past two decades in Australia and we are now being ranked as one of the fattest developed nations.

In 2011-12, around a quarter of all Australian children aged 5-17 years (24% of boys and 27% of girls) were either overweight or obese. Studies have shown that once children become obese they are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and have an increased risk of developing both short and long-term health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A 2009 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that there will be continued increases in overweight and obesity levels across all age groups during the next decade in Australia, to around 66% of the population (Sassi et al. 2009).

Physical Activity And Development

Physical activity helps the production of functional nerve cells / neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain which is responsible for learning and memory. The younger people are, the most efficient is this production. Regular physical activity started during childhood and sustained throughout the lifetime improves cognitive functioning, creates multiple physical and psychological health benefits and could help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Increased participation in physical activity leads to improved cognitive functioning (information processing), memory, concentration, behaviour and academic achievement. Despite global evidence demonstrating the academic value of physical activity, the increasing pressure on schools to focus on numeracy and literacy has been to the detriment of children’s physical activity levels.

Physical Activity Levels

Two thirds of our children DO NOT meet the daily physical activity guidelines*.
Less than a third of children meet the Sedentary behaviour guidelines of ‘no more than 2 hours of screen-based entertainment’ every day.
60% of Australian adults did less than the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day.
Nearly 70% of Australian adults (i.e. almost 12 million adults) are either sedentary or have low levels of physical activity.