A record number of Australians may be dropping exercise down their life priority list but many more appear to be seeing its broader benefits, according to the annual, 20,000-person AusPlay survey of the country's exercise habits.
- The latest national sport and exercise survey shows how Australians are emerging from the pandemic
- However, the proportion of inactive Australians who say exercise is no longer a priority is at a record high
- Almost one third of people are motivated to exercise for mental health reasons
Almost one-in-three Australian adults are now motivated to exercise to maintain their mental wellness.
At 31 per cent, that figure has almost doubled in five years, enjoying steady growth over the period of the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions.
However, while the survey also showed children are returning to weekly out-of-school exercise — 47 per cent compared to 42 in the previous year — it also showed getting active is no longer as important for some Australians.
The proportion of Australians who were not active — and who reported exercise was no longer a priority — increased substantially, up from 7 per cent in 2020-21 to 11 per cent in 2021-22.
That's now the highest level recorded since AusPlay commenced collecting data in October 2015.
The proportion is even higher for Australians aged 18 or over who speak a language other than English at home, at 13 per cent.
Federal minister for sport, Anika Wells, said the survey was useful for understanding how the government, and individual sports, approach administration of the sector.
“Australians see the benefits of being active for their physical and mental health and we must continue to address the barriers that are stopping them from being active,” Ms Wells said.
Victoria University's professor of sport participation, Rochelle Eime, said keeping Australians involved in exercise helps people individually as well as society at large.
"If you've got really poor health and lot of chronic disease and [are] severely obese, it's very hard to be active, especially through sporting activities," Professor Eime said.
"That's the issue. We're getting rising obesity rates and rising chronic disease, which the health case costs and the burden is massive."
Individual pursuits on the rise
The most-popular activities for boys are swimming, football (including soccer and Aussie rules), while swimming, dancing and gymnastics are most popular for girls.
Among men, bushwalking continues to be popular, coming in as their third-most-popular non-sport activity after walking and going to the gym or attending to personal fitness.
Yoga topped bushwalking as the third-most-popular non-sport activity for women, again after walking and fitness.
Sports Commission chief executive Kieren Perkins said the results highlighted the trend towards flexible, individual pursuits.
“We are seeing more Australians engage in activities such as bushwalking, yoga, pilates and exergaming, which can be enjoyed at times and locations that suit them,” he said.
“We know many people are juggling multiple commitments and it’s important that our sports continue to explore how best to engage with Australians who are looking for flexibility to suit their lifestyles.”
Professor Eime said the reasons why people do different exercise pursuits can differ.
"People don't go [to] play tennis on a Saturday afternoon for mental health [reasons]. It can help contribute to a whole range of things, but generally it's to go and have fun and play with some mates.
"The COVID flipside is we all turned to individual activities because we couldn't do team and club-based sport, but you actually get better psychological and health benefits because of that social and team-based nature, and when you're active with others, you're more likely to continue to be active."
According to the survey 43 per cent of inactive, older Australians — aged 55 and over — say poor health or injury is a barrier to being active.
The survey also highlighted an urban-regional divide, with 83 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over in major cities participate in sport or physical activity at least once a week compared to just 76 per cent in regional and rural areas.