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Preventive health focuses on keeping people healthy and well, and avoiding the onset of disease, illness, or injury.

Over the past 50 years, the prevalence of chronic conditions has increased, with most of the disease burden in Australia now being caused by cancer, musculoskeletal conditions, cardiovascular diseases, mental health conditions and substance use disorders, and neurological conditions.10

Many of these conditions can be prevented through improving individual, social, economic, and structural risk factors.

Increasing physical activity, including through sport participation, is one of the key measures identified through the Australian National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030 to help “improve the health and wellbeing of all Australians at all stages of life”. 7

More than half of adults and 2 in 3 children don't meet Australia's physical activity guidelines, 8 and 1 in 4 children and 2 in 3 adults are overweight or obese, 9 impacting their long-term health outcomes.


97% of Australians believe that sport and physical activity are good for health and wellbeing. 11
Playing sport during childhood is critical for developing a life-long habit of being physically active. Children who grow up playing sport are 10% more likely to remain active as adults. 16
Physical health and/or fitness is the strongest motivator for Australians 15+ to participate in sport and physical activity. 12
Participating in sport and physical activity for social, psychological and mental health reasons has increased over the past 5 years.22
Participating in sport – particularly team-based sport – makes it more likely that participants will meet the physical activity guidelines and continue physical activity long term. 13, 14, 15
The Australian National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030 calls for: 7
  • the Australian sport sector to play a greater role in preventive health action to increase physical activity and improve mental health within the community
  • more Australians to be engaged in sport and active recreation throughout every stage of life
  • communities to be encouraged and supported to deliver locally designed programs that support physical activity, which are inclusive and promote social connection.


Health benefits

Sufficient physical activity reduces the risk of developing a range of non-communicable diseases illnesses and injuries including: 7, 8, 13

  • cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • dementia/cognitive decline
  • some cancers (such as breast and colon)
  • osteoporosis
  • musculoskeletal conditions
Being physically active also maintains strong muscles and bones, reduces the risk of experiencing falls, and can help reduce risk factors such as unhealthy weight gain, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. 17
In 2018, 2.5% of the total disease burden in Australia could have been avoided if all people in Australia were sufficiently active. 8
Analysis by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggests that insufficient physical activity, when considered together with overweight and obesity prevalence, account for around 9% of the total disease burden in Australia—the same as tobacco smoking (the leading individual risk factor). 18

Economic benefits

Conservatively estimated, physical inactivity cost health-care systems INT$53.8 billion worldwide in 2013, of which: 4
  • $31.2 billion was paid by the public sector
  • $12.9 billion by the private sector
  • $9.7 billion by households.
Sport creates AU$29 billion of net health benefits each year through reduced healthcare costs and early mortality. 1
Community sport infrastructure helps generate AU$4.9 billion worth of health benefit including personal benefits to those who are less likely to contract a range of health conditions which are known to be associated with physical inactivity and the benefits to the health system from a healthier population. 2
If all adults aged 18-64 walked just 15 minutes more a day, the world economy would grow by an estimated $100 billion a year until 2050.3
In 2018-19 managing health conditions due to physical inactivity (such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes) cost the Australian health system an estimated AU$968 million. 5
Research from South Australia found that, on average, inactive individuals consumed around $1,500 more in public health services a year, and insufficient physical activity has the potential to cost the public health system an additional $86,366 over an adult’s lifetime. 6

Sport injuries

Physical activity and sport participation will always carry a risk of activity related injuries. These risks can be better managed by: 20
  • education regarding what is ‘safe practice’
  • relevant data collection and research to more accurately assess risks and develop mediating strategies
  • implementation of strategies and programs at all levels of organised sport
  • public awareness of the benefits and risks of physical activity, particularly during unsupervised activities.
Sport injury spending is highest at younger ages, particularly for young males (aged 5-19), and then decreases steadily from age 30 onwards for both males and females. 21
In 2018-19, up to AU$1.4 billion in health spending could have been avoided through improved injury prevention and management in sport and physical activity (12% of total injury costs).21
Around AU$55 per person was spent treating and managing sports injuries for Australians in 2018-19. For males, this was $64 per person and for females was $40.21
The Australian Sports Commission and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare are working to develop a Strategy to better capture and understand data on sport injuries and their contexts, inform research, policy and prevention programs, and provide a reliable evidence base on which to improve safety in sport. 19


No matter what your age, being physically active and limiting your sedentary behaviour as much as possible every day is essential for health and wellbeing.

Encouraging these behaviours is a key policy objective of governments at all levels, but success will require a holistic approach across multiple areas of influence including transport, education, the built environment, healthcare, workplaces, sport, and more. 13

Understanding the full extent of the impact of physical inactivity requires clear data. Currently available data sources may only be collected intermittently, can quickly become outdated, or may not use standardised protocols and measures, limiting the analysis or comparison that can be made across different time periods and/or jurisdictions.

The adoption of consistent methodology and improved data currency and availability would help to address these challenges and strengthen the evidence base for successful programs and measures that will help more people be active, more often.

No single factor or measure will individually achieve our personal or social health goals, but sport, in its many forms, can serve as an excellent platform for families, communities and governments to encourage more people to increase their levels of physical activity and make an important contribution to individual and community health and wellbeing.

  1. Intergenerational review of Australian sport, BCG Consulting for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017).
  2. The value of community sport infrastructure: Investigating the value of community sport facilities to Australia, KPMG for the Australian Sports Commission, (2018)
  3. Just 15 min of exercise a day would 'boost world economy by US$100bn', Tom Walker, Sport Management, (8 November 2019)
  4. The economic burden of physical inactivity: A global analysis of major non-communicable diseases, Ding Ding, Kenny Lawson, Tracy Kolbe-Alexander, et al., The Lancet, Volume 388(10051), pp.1311-1324, (September 2016)
  5. Economics of sport and physical activity participation and injury, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (5 September 2023)
  6. Get active and your health isn't the only thing that will benefit, Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing, South Australia [media release], (20 October 2020)
  7. National Preventive Health Strategy 2021–2030, Australian Government, Department of Health, (2021).
  8. Physical activity, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (19 May 2023).
  9. Overweight and obesity: overview, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (accessed 19 May 2023).
  10. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2022, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (13 December 2022).
  11. Community Perceptions Monitor Annual Report 2022-2023, Australian Sports Commission, (September 2023).
  12. AusPlay Data Portal: Motivations for participation, Australian Sports Commission, (accessed 20 July 2023).
  13. Getting Australia Active III: A systems approach to physical activity for policy makers, Bellew B, Nau T, Smith B, Bauman A (Eds.), The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre and The University of Sydney, (April 2020).
  14. The participation in organised sport doubles the odds of meeting physical activity recommendations in 7–12-year-old children, Kerli Mooses, Merike Kull, European Journal of Sport Sciences, Volume 20(4), pp.563-569, (2020).
  15. Organized sport trajectories from childhood to adolescence and health associations, Howie E, McVeigh J, Smith A, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Volume 47(7), pp.1331-1339, (July 2016).
  16. Adolescent participation in sports and adult physical activity, Tuija Tammelin, Simo Näyhä, Andrew Hills, et al., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 24(1), pp.22-28, (2003) quoted in Intergenerational review of Australian sport, BCG Consulting for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017).
  17. Physical activity and exercise guidelines for adults and older Australians, Australian Government, Department of Health and Aged Care, (accessed 19 May 2023).
  18. Australia's health 2018: Contribution of selected risk factors to burden of disease, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (20 June 2018).
  19. National sports injury data strategy, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (18 February 2022).
  20. Cost of Sports Injuries, Clearinghouse for Sport, (accessed 25 November 2022).
  21. Economics of sports injury, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (updated 30 November 2022).
  22. AusPlay dataset, Australian Sports Commission, (accessed July 2023).


Discover more about the value and benefits of sport.

Last updated: 19 May 2023
Content disclaimer: See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer


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