National physical activity recommendations for older Australians: Discussion Document

4. The health consequences of physical inactivity and the benefits of physical activity

The National Ageing Research Institute was commissioned by The Department of Health and Ageing to review the evidence and develop physical activity recommendations for older people.

Page last updated: 01 February 2011

In this Chapter a summary of the evidence surrounding the benefits of physical activity is presented, together with data on the prevalence of health problems related to physical inactivity, highlighting the morbidity and mortality statistics for older Australians. The impact of physical activity on general quality of life and for each National Health Priority Area is considered. The Chapter concludes with a discussion of the risks associated with physical activity participation in older people.

Physical inactivity is recognised as an independent risk factor for a number of health conditions. For example, the Victorian Burden of Disease Study used relative risk attributable to inactivity plus recent Victorian statistics on physical activity, to produce figures for the disease burden attributable to inactivity for bowel cancer, stroke, ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and type 2 diabetes (Department of Human Services 2001). Physical inactivity accounted for 4% of the total disability adjusted life years (DALYs) figure. The greatest contribution was related to IHD. In Australia, at least $400 million in direct health care costs can be attributed to physical inactivity, and physical inactivity is associated with around 8,000 deaths per year (Bauman, Bellew et al. 2002). Whilst Chapter 3 highlighted that inactivity is particularly prevalent amongst older people, they stand to achieve at least short -term gains in health from behaviour change related to increasing physical activity. The statistics in the following sections emphasise the importance of physical activity promotion to reduce the prevalence of major health conditions in older Australians and to enable healthy, productive ageing.

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