National Women's Health Policy

Physical inactivity

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

The proven health benefits of physical activity include the prevention of a range of chronic diseases118, the promotion of good mental health and the maintenance of a healthy weight.119 120 121

Females report less physical activity than men.122 This trend is particularly pronounced among young girls and adolescent women. Only 30 per cent of females aged 15–24 participated in levels of physical activity that met the recommended national guidelines in 2004 (compared to 46 per cent of males). 123

Regular physical activity is vital for both women and men; however, there are differences in the barriers to participating in physical activity. Women face different barriers to being physically active than men including time, caring responsibilities124, lower socio-economic status, body image125 and concerns about personal safety. 126

Many women cite lack of time as the most common reason for not taking part in regular or organised physical activity.127 128 129 130 131 Unpaid work factors heavily in women’s lives, with many women fulfilling multiple responsibilities in care giving, meal preparation and housework. This can lead to women neglecting their own health and not having the time to participate in beneficial levels of physical activity. 132 Women’s concerns about personal safety, higher levels of traffic and crime can also inhibit their participation in walking.133

The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health found physical activity levels decrease in association with marriage and childbirth in young women and with declining health in older women. Changes in physical activity levels were also associated with stressful life events such as divorce, harassment at work, and violence.134

Women with a lower socioeconomic status may encounter a number of additional barriers to participation in physical activity. For example, they may live in areas with less access to public transport and other services; and the cost of particular activities may be prohibitive.

Females living inside and outside major cities appeared equally as likely to be sedentary.135Over half of women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds reported their level of physical activity as ‘sedentary’ compared to a third of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.136 Urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians face other, complex barriers to participation in physical activity, including being judged by others when in public spaces and accessibility.137