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Majority of Australians failed to meet suggested physical activity behaviour guidelines during Coronavirus lockdown

Majority of Australians failed to meet suggested physical activity behaviour guidelines during Coronavirus lockdown
July 17, 2020

Despite anecdotal evidence that Australians were more active during the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions, a Monash University study has revealed that the majority of Australians didn’t meet suggested physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines.

Research enterprise BehaviourWorks Australia, part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, conducted a survey into physical activity and sedentary behaviour during the Coronavirus pandemic with 1,084 adults in April this year.

The findings, published in the paper Physical activity and sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic: An Australian population study, found that, as COVID-19 closed gyms and halted community sport and recreation activities - forcing Australians to stay home - 70% of adults didn’t meet the aerobic components of the Australian Government physical activity guidelines and 60% didn’t meet the strength components.

Breaking down age and gender, the survey found that young adults participated in more strength activities than older adults with researchers believing that online home exercise classes may be more accessible to younger adults who are proficient with computers and the internet.

In addition, males were found to be slightly more active than females and, alarmingly, that 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.

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.

Researchers believed 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.

Lead author Dr Brea Kunstler, who is also a qualified physiotherapist, said the results weren’t surprising, but they were useful to help authorities communicate the importance of moving.

Dr Kunstler advised “Australian adults rarely meet physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines. 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.”

Dr Kunstler said Melbourne’s recent surge of cases and the return of lockdowns shouldn’t deter people from exercising, for the sake of their physical and mental health, adding “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.

“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 Australian data collected in the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB), with BehaviourWorks leading the Australian chapter of the global SCRUB project.

About the author

Karen Sweaney

Editor, Australasian Leisure Management

Artist, geoscientist and specialist writer on the leisure industry, Karen Sweaney is Editor of Australasian Leisure Management. Based in Sydney, Australia, her specific areas of interest include the arts, entertainment, the environment, fitness, tourism and wellness.

She has degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Sydney and Geological Oceanography from UNSW.

Read more from this author

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