physical activity

The majority of Australians were lazy and didn’t meet suggested physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines during the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions, a Monash University study has revealed.

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

With some five million Victorians, mainly in Melbourne, heading back into lockdown this week, researchers are encouraging people to move more in this next phase of stage 3 restrictions.

Results were published in the paper Physical activity and sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic: An Australian population study

It found as COVID-19 forced Australians to stay home and closed gyms, 70 per cent of adults didn’t meet the aerobic components of the Australian Government physical activity guidelines and 60 per cent didn’t meet the strength components.

Young adults participated in more strength activities than older adults.

Researchers believed this could be due to the introduction of online home exercise classes that can be completed without leaving home and are more accessible to younger adults who are proficient with computers and the internet (e.g. using video platforms like Zoom).

Males were found to be slightly more active than females and alarmingly, 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.

“Australian adults rarely meet physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines,” she said. “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.

“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,” she said.

“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.

To view other results from SCRUB, please click here.

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