More Australians turning to exercise to maintain mental health, but a growing number are ditching it altogether

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.

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.

Woman wearing a blue blouse with a jacket.
Minister for Sport Anika Wells said AusPlay helps the government understand barriers to exercise.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

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.


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