Physical Activity

Physical Activity

Prepared by : Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Reviewed by network : Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN), April 2019
Last updated : 30 January 2020
Content disclaimer : See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer
Junior Sport Framework


The benefits of regular physical activity (PA) are numerous and supported by a broad body of research and evidence. These benefits are contingent on the types of PA related activities undertaken, frequency and settings.

Sport in its many forms can serve as an excellent platform for families, communities and governments to encourage more people to get more active more often, and to increase their levels of physical activity—whether that be for an individual or a nation.

Physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for premature mortality and reduced quality of life—both physical and mental. High levels of sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity at a population level can place a significant burden on a nation’s health budget and its economy.

Benefits of physical activity

    PA reduces the risk of developing:

    A range of non-communicable diseases and illness including coronary artery disease; Type 2 diabetes; depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses; dementia/cognitive decline in older adults; and some cancers. PA can also improve resilience to some communicable diseases.

    Individual and social benefits:

    Improved physical fitness—flexibility, body composition, cardio-respiratory health, strength endurance and movement skills. Enhanced cognitive development—mental concentration and sleep/wake cycles. Enhanced psychological and social development—interpersonal skills, personal resilience, confidence and self-esteem. Improved productivity and lower health care costs. 

    Why sport?

    While all PA provides significant benefits for health and wellbeing, sportparticularly team-based sportcan provide stronger outcomes including: improved resilience; improved mental health outcomes across the life course; positive role models; social connectedness; higher likelihood of meeting PA guidelines and continuing PA long term.
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  • 12 minutes more: The importance of physical activity, sports and exercise in order to improve health, personal finances and the pressures on the NHS (PDF  - 1.6 MB), Lordan G, Pakrashi D and Jones A, Nuffield Health, UK,(2013). This report cites current research that supports the value of sport and physical activity for long-term health benefits. The report also links sport and physical activity to personal financial and population-wide economic benefits. Realising the benefits of sport, exercise and physical activity does not require expensive structural change to the public sector or government legislation. We simply need a more exercise friendly environment and a change of attitude, asking ourselves ‘How do we get an extra 12 minutes of physical activity into our day?’
  • Aerobic exercise may improve thinking skills in adults of all ages, Linda Carroll, Reuters, (31 January 2019). Numerous studies have shown that aerobic exercise can improve cognition in seniors, but a small new study finds that vigorous workouts boost thinking skills in younger adults as well. 
  • Behaviour change study on physical activity: How technology-based incentives drive healthier lives, RAND Corporation/Vitality, (2018). This study outlines findings of the largest behavioural change study on physical activity - based on verified data. Conducted by RAND Europe, a not-for-profit global research institute, this study is the largest yet to measure the effectiveness of financial rewards coupled with wearable technology to make people more active over time.
  • Even a 20-Second Exercise ‘Snack’ Can Improve Fitness, Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, (23 January 2019). As little as 20 seconds of brisk stair climbing, done several times a day, might be enough to increase aerobic fitness.
  • Exercise Linked With Lower Risk of 13 Types of Cancer, Hope Cristol, American Cancer Society, (17 May). Previous studies have investigated the link between physical activity and cancer risk, and results were inconclusive for most cancer types. The exceptions were colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. This new study, published May 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that leisure-time physical activity was associated with a significantly decreased risk of not only these 3 cancers, but also esophageal cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, kidney cancer, and myeloid leukemia. In addition, physical activity was strongly associated with a decreased risk of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, as well as cancers of the head and neck, rectum, bladder, and lung (in current and former smokers).
  • Exercise makes you happier than money, according to Yale and Oxford research, Ruqayyah Moynihan, Business Insider Deutschland, (3 April 2019). Researchers at Yale and Oxford say exercise is more important to your mental health than your economic status. The scientists found that while people who exercise regularly tend to feel bad for 35 days a year, nonactive participants felt bad for 18 days more. The team also found that certain sports that involve socializing can have more of a positive effect on your mental health than others.
  • The exercise that best supports your mental health, Sarah Berry, The Sydney Morning Herald, (20 November 2019). Cycling or walking to and from work are among the best exercises for our mental health, according to a new paper, published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity. Along with active transport, any leisure activity we enjoy, whether it’s playing football, hitting the gym or going for a stroll, also reap mental health rewards.
  • Fitness and body mass index during adolescence and disability later in life [Infographic], Pontus Henriksson,, British Journal of Sports Medicine blog, (24 September 2019). As shown in the infographic below, both low cardiorespiratory fitness and obesity in adolescence were strongly associated with later disability pension. Thus, our findings display the relevance of high cardiorespiratory fitness and healthy body weight during adolescence in relation to later disability.
  • Forget long-term health benefits, get active for the short term rewards, Alexandra Parker and Melinda Craike, Canberra Times, (10 October 2019). The human psyche responds to immediate reward and the long-term physical health benefits of exercise - often years away - have failed to motivate us to move. Switching our public messaging and campaigns to mental health and social benefits of physical activity, may help motivate people into action. A focus on feeling good, enjoyment, managing daily stress, a sense of achievement, the opportunity to socialise with friends or spend time with family are likely to be more motivating for most people.
  • GWI report: global physical activity sector worth US$828bn, Tom Walker, Sports Management, (15 October 2019). The physical activity economy is now a US$828bn (€752bn, £655bn) market – and its value is expected to grow further to US$1.1tn (€1tn, £870bn) by 2023.
  • Here’s how exercise reduces anxiety and makes you feel more connected, Kelly McGonigal, Washington Post, (21 January 2020). People who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives. They have a stronger sense of purpose, feel more gratitude, are more connected to their communities, and are less likely to be lonely or anxious.
  • How much do sedentary people really need to move? It’s less than you think, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Joanne Gale and Melody Ding, University of Sydney, The Conversation, (23 April 2019). People who spend much of their day sitting may need to move around less than we thought to counteract their sedentary lifestyle, new research shows. About 20-40 minutes of physical activity a day, equivalent to meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150 to 300 minutes a week, seems to eliminate most health risks associated with sitting.
  • How much is physical inactivity costing the world? University of Sydney news, (28 July 2016). New research reveals the enormous economic burden of physical inactivity. "Based on our data, physical inactivity costs the global economy INT67.8 billion in 2013, with Australia footing a bill of more than AUD $805 million. At a global and individual country level these figures are likely to be an underestimate of the real cost".
  • Interactive body map: physical inactivity and the risks to your health, Carol Maher, National Heart Foundation Senior Research Fellow in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep, University of South Australia and Tim Olds, Professor of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, The Conversation, (8 December 2016). This interactive body map brings together scientific evidence on the links between lack of physical activity and disease. 
  • Just 15 min of exercise a day would 'boost world economy by US$100bn', Tom Walker, Sport Management, (8 November 2019). A study assessing the impact of physical inactivity on national economies has suggested that if all adults aged 18-64 walked just 15 minutes more a day, the world economy would grow by an estimated $100bn a year until 2050.
  • Lack of physical activity costing UK employers £6.6bn, Tom Walker, Sports Management, (27 September 2019). Getting employees more physically active could save UK businesses up to £6.6bn through improved employee productivity each year.
  • Long-Distance Skiers Have Less Depression and Vascular Dementia, But Not Alzheimer’s, Traci Pedersen, PsychCentral, (6 December 2019). In a new Swedish study, researchers compared 200,000 people who had participated in a long-distance cross-country ski race between 1989 and 2010 with a matched control group from the general population.
  • Organized sports in childhood linked to better emotional health in adolescence: study, Presse Canadienne, (9 June 2019). A study of Quebec children has found a link between consistent participation in organized sports in childhood and better emotional health once the child reaches the age of 12.
  • Physical Activity, World Health Organisation website, (accessed 25 March 2019). 
  • Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour: Research and StatisticsDepartment of Health Australia, (last updated 21 November 2017). This page contains scientific evidence review reports and key facts and figures regarding physical activity and sedentary behaviour. 
  • Swimming saving NHS £357m a year, Tom Walker, Sports Management, (4 November 2019). Swim England has called on the government and healthcare professionals to "maximise the benefits" of swimming, after a report suggests that the activity saves the NHS more than £357m a year.

Report iconReports 

  • 2014 Consensus Statement from the first Economics of Physical Inactivity Consensus (EPIC) Conference, Vancouver (PDF  - 230 KB), Davis J, Verhagen E, Bryan S,, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 48(12), (2014). The 'Economics of Physical Inactivity Consensus Workshop' (EPIC) was held in Vancouver, Canada, in April 2011. Goals of the workshop were to: (1) detail existing evidence on effective physical inactivity prevention strategies; (2) introduce economic evaluation and its role in health policy decisions; (3) discuss key challenges in establishing and building health economic evaluation evidence; and (4) provide insight into interpretation of economic evaluations. Investment decisions for promoting physical activity are based upon evidence and estimated return on investment. Program settings include schools, transportation systems, urban design, public education, primary care strategies, community programs and ‘sport for all’ initiatives. The economic burden of physical inactivity can be quantified in terms of health care costs and loss of productivity due to preventable or controllable diseases. Evaluation of evidence produced consensus on these points:
    • Physical inactivity is a well-established health problem.
    • The economic burden of physical inactivity accounts for 1–3% of total healthcare costs annually.
    • There is high-quality evidence to suggest that physical inactivity can be mitigated; thus costs can be saved.
    • It is currently difficult to determine how much can be saved. This is difficult to determine because of methodological challenges specific to conducting economic evaluations of physical inactivity interventions both at an individual and population level.
    • Further research must focus on alignment with decision-making priorities and use of cost-utility analysis methodology.
  • A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport, Eime R, Young J, Harvey J, Charity M and Payne W, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 10, (2013). Specific guidelines exist that recommend the level of physical activity required to provide health benefits. However, most of the research underpinning these guidelines does not address the element of social or psychological health. This paper presents the results of a systematic review of the psychological and social health benefits of participation in sport by children and adolescents and goes on to develop a conceptual model, ‘Health through Sport’.
  • Active and Healthy Ageing through Sport (PDF  - 2.3 MB), van Uffelen J, Jenkin C, Westerbeek H, Biddle S and Eime R, Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University for the Australian Sports Commission, (2015). Organised sport, as one form of physical activity, provides an excellent opportunity for older adults to be active in an enjoyable setting. In addition to personal enjoyment, regular physical activity can improve physical and mental health, with the potential to improve overall quality of life. Furthermore, club-based or team-based sport participation has been associated with better social health, due to the interactive nature of participation. However, despite the known benefits of sport participation, there is a decline with age. The overall aim of this report is to provide knowledge about sport participation among the population of aging adults in Australia. For the purpose of this report, the age of 50+ years has been used and is referred to as ’older adults’. The specific aims of this report are: (1) to improve our knowledge about sport participation by older adults; (2) to summarise what is known about the benefits of sports participation and the barriers faced by older adults; and (3) to provide information about the opportunities, strategies and potential modifications that may increase sport participation by older adults. Data were used from two population-based surveys, the 2010 Exercise Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS) and the 2013 Australian Health and Social Science study (AHSS). In addition, surveys from 192 National and State/Territory Sporting Organisations (NSOs and SSOs); plus eight focus group interviews were conducted, that included both sport club members and non-sport club individuals.
  • Active Citizens Worldwide: annual report 2019 (PDF  - 10.9 MB), Active Citizens Worldwide, (2019). Now in the second year ACW works to provide compelling evidence from participating cities (Auckland, London, Singapore, Stockholm) to shed light on the value of sport and physical activity (economic, health, social) and the complex systemic interplay between socio-economics, demographics, policy, and sport/physical activity participation. Some highlights of the report include: Physically active individuals are: 6% happier; 28% more trusting of community: have 6% higher life satisfaction; and, 14% less psychologically distressed. Sport can also lead to more time spent with others. For every hour spend doing sport, 48 minutes are spent with other people; for non-sport exercise 1 hour=23 minutes spent with others. The report also highlights that well-off individuals are up to 1.7 times more likely to be active than those less well-off and the participation gap between men and women remains pronounced in all participating cities. 
  • Brain Boost: How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning, what the research is telling us, (PDF  - 2.9 MB), Smith J, Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation, (2015). This report is a follow-up to one published in 2010, it updates the latest research supporting the positive link between physical activity (including sport) and cognitive development and academic success. It details findings from Australian and international research published in peer reviewed journals and it provides summaries of intervention and longitudinal research, correlational studies, and research reviews.
  • Common Misconceptions of Active Travel Investment: A review of the evidence, Sustrans, (2019). There are many misconceptions about investment in walking and cycling. New research by Sustrans uncovers the truth behind some common myths, by examining the mounting body of evidence showing the many health, environmental and economic benefits of walking and cycling.
  • The costs of illness attributable to physical inactivity in Australia: A preliminary study (PDF  - 964 KB), Stephenson J, Bauman A, Armstrong T, Smith B and Bellew B, Australian Government, Department of Health and Aged Care and the Australian Sports Commission, (2000). This discussion paper presents a preliminary analysis of the costs of illness attributable to physical inactivity, with particular emphasis on coronary heart disease, non-insulin dependent diabetes, and colon cancer. Other costs of illness attributable to physical inactivity are described, although in less detail.
  • Don't worry, be happy: cross-sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 European countries, Richards J, Jiang X, Kelly P, Chau J, Bauman A and Ding D, BMC Public Health, (31 January 2015). The association between physical activity and a number of markers of mental health (depression, anxiety, self-esteem, etc.) has been widely studied. This research analysed data collected in 2002 from 15 European countries (N=11,500). Self-reported physical activity and happiness were assessed using survey methods. Results showed a dose-response association with higher volumes of physical activity associated with higher levels of happiness. Subjects who were ‘very active’ had a happiness score that was 52% higher than those who were ‘inactive’. Also, when taking into account possible confounding factors, associations remained significant. The intensity of activity didn’t seem to matter too much. However, this study could not determine causation, it may be that happier people choose to be more physically active.
  • The economic benefits of a more physically active population: An international analysis, Marco Hafner,, RAND Corporation, (2019). The findings of this report suggest that making people physically more active is associated with economic benefits. Under three different physical activity improvement scenarios, it is estimated that by 2025, the global GDP could be between US$138 billion — US$338 billion higher with increased activity, compared to current physical activity levels. The economic benefits are increasing over time and by 2050 the estimated increase could be nearer to between US$314 billion and US$760 billion. A breakdown of the GDP gains suggests that reduced presenteeism drives the highest proportion of economic gain as a result of reducing physical inactivity — about 70 per cent — with reduced mortality and reduced sickness absence responsible for only about 30 percent of the overall GDP gains projected. Furthermore, the findings suggest that billions of dollars in global healthcare expenditure could be saved by improving physical activity rates. Overall the models estimate that between US$8.7 billion - US$11.2 billion in present global healthcare expenditure could be saved by making people physically more active, with those savings rising to between US$16 billion and US$20.6 billion by 2050.
  • The economic cost of physical inactivity in Europe (PDF  - 2.6 MB), International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) and Centre for Economics and Business Research, (2015). This report examined the prevalence of physical inactivity in six European countries – Poland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, using World Health Organization (WHO) physical activity guidelines as a benchmark. Inactivity contributes to obesity, but has far-reaching impacts on health. Understanding physical activity’s role in achieving energy balance and preventing obesity is an important part of effective public health policy. However, the consequences of physical inactivity are not solely related to weight gain. Individuals who are normal weight, but who are physical inactive, are still at increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as stroke, type two diabetes, some cancers and coronary heart disease. The direct cost of population-wide physical inactivity among the six focus countries in this study was estimated to be €7.6 billion in 2012. It’s estimated that a 20% reduction in the rate of physical inactivity could save 100,000 deaths annually and €11.8 billion across the 28 European Union countries.
  • Economic value of community club-based sport in Australia, (PDF  - 1.0 MB), Australian Sports Commission/Griffith University, (2017). The objective of this report was to develop a valid model to provide an economic estimate (i.e. Australian dollar value) of social benefits associated with the provision of, and participation in, club-based community sport in Australia. This was carried out using two measures of community based club sport participation: those taking part at least once per week for a minimum of 30 minutes, and those taking part at least three times per week for at least 30 minutes each time. The report estimated the financial value of 3 different measures of subjective well-being as well as for social capital. Although the income compensation values are high (billions of dollars) the authors caution that these do not represent any specific expenditures either by sports participants or government, but rather a theoretical value that would be needed to compensate the sport participant if they were prevented from taking part in sport in order to maintain the same level of subjective well-being or social capital.
  • The economics of exercise: Measuring the business benefit of being physically fitPJM Economics for AXA PPP healthcare, (September 2019). Highlights the substantial return on investment businesses could stand to make from increasing physical activity levels among employees. According to the study, if all employees met the recommended guidelines of doing 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (just over 20 minutes per day), it could deliver up to £6.6 billion in direct productivity gains to businesses each year.  
  • Everybody Active, Every Day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity (PDF  - 1.3 MB), Varney J, Brannan M and Aaltonen G, Public Health England, (2014). This report provides evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of many preventable diseases. It also supports the role of physical activity in enhancing the life of everyone, from children to mature age.
  • Game of Life: how sport and recreation can help make us healthier, happier and richer(PDF  - 4.2 MB), Cox S, Sport and Recreation Alliance, (2012). The ‘Game of Life’ is a document that brings together current evidence from the United Kingdom to support the underlying belief that participation in sport and recreation can benefit society and individuals.
  • Getting Australia Active: Towards better practice for the promotion of physical activity (PDF  - 1.3 MB), Bauman A, Bellew B, Vita P, Brown W and Owen N, National Public Health Partnership, (2002). Engaging in regular physical activity, even of moderate intensity, reduces the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, colon cancer, and obesity and injury. The benefits, however, go well beyond those of disease prevention. Regular physical activity has also been shown to facilitate better stress management, alleviate depression and anxiety, strengthen self-esteem, enhance mood and boost mental alertness. Additionally, it provides social benefits through increased social interaction and integration. Among children and adolescents, regular physical activity and exercise has been associated with improved school performance, a greater sense of personal responsibility and group cooperation, and less drug and alcohol consumption. This report summarises the evidence linking physical activity to better health outcomes. It will help stakeholders to guide practice and advance the physical activity agenda in Australia.
  • Getting Australia Active II: An update of evidence on physical activity for health (PDF  - 819 KB), Bull F, Bauman A, Bellew B and Brown W, National Public Health Partnership, (2004). This report updates the literature review in, Getting Australian Active: Towards better practice for the promotion of physical activity, and provides further evidence for stakeholders. It strengthens the epidemiological evidence-base for physical activity and health, with additional information in the diabetes prevention realm. Key evidence has accumulated about diabetes prevention since the first review of literature. There are now large scale prevention trials in China, Finland and the United States that have demonstrated success in reducing risk factors. This second report also includes evaluations of national strategies and documentation (where available) as an indicator of success.
  • Government response to the House of Commons Health Select Committee report on the impact of physical activity and diet on health, Sixth Report of Session 2014-15, Department of Health, United Kingdom, (July 2015). The Government recognises the seriousness of public health issues, and the need to increase levels of physical activity, improve diet and reduce obesity as key public health priorities. For too long, physical activity has been seen merely in the light of its benefits in tackling obesity. However, there is compelling evidence that physical activity in its own right has huge health benefits totally independent of a person’s weight. It has been suggested that increasing physical activity levels could have greater impact on reducing mortality than reducing weight. The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for recommend levels of activity will help people derive the greatest health benefits; but even small increases in activity levels can have a dramatic positive impact on health.
  • Happier people live more active lives: Using smartphones to link happiness and physical activity, Lathia N, Sandstrom G, Mascolo C and Rentfrow P, PLOS One, (4 January 2017). It appears that physical activity, both exercise and non-exercise, has far-reaching benefits to both physical and mental health. This study examined the relationship between physical activity (measured broadly) and happiness using a smartphone application. This app was used to collect self-reports of happiness and physical activity from over ten thousand participants, while passively gathering information about physical activity from the accelerometers on users' phones. The findings reveal that individuals who are more physically active are happier. Further, individuals are happier in the moments when they are more physically active.
  • Her life depends on it III: Sport, physical activity, and health and wellbeing of American girls and women (PDF  - 1.5 MB), Women’s Sports Foundation, (2015). This comprehensive report reviews the content of over 1,500 studies (including nearly 400 additional references since the previous edition) and summarises existing and emerging research on the links between participation in sport and physical activity and the health and wellbeing of American girls and women. As with the previous editions in 2004 and 2009, this analysis confirms that physical activity and sport provide the critical foundation that allows girls and women to lead healthy, strong, and fulfilled lives.
  • The Impact of Coaching on Participants 2017UK Coaching, (November 2017). This report presents the results from a four year study examining the experience of both adult and young participants who were either coached or not coached. Additional questions were added in the final year to focus on the reasons why people stop taking part in sport or physical activity. Participants were grouped into several market segments: active committed; active at risk; active returners; and inactive dropped out. Overall the results indicate that both adults and young people who are being coached are more likely to continue being committed to sport and physical activity, less likely to stop participating, and more likely to return to activity if they do stop (i.e. due to injury). However, the responses also demonstrate that people being coached are just as likely as those not being formally coached to think about stopping. Positive coach/participant relationships, and matching delivery to individual needs are important aspects for maintaining participation for all age groups. 
  • In Sport, We Trust: how sport can bridge the UK trust deficitSPORTED, (2019). The essential components of this work are new, innovative analysis of large national population datasets in the UK to establish a robust link between the activity (sport group engagement) and social outcomes (community cohesion measures), allowing us to report new findings and identify gaps in the evidence. This analysis includes Sport England’s own Active Lives dataset, which is analysed alongside other important datasets like Understanding Society, Taking Part and Community Life. All these datasets track participation in sports groups and almost all of the outcomes relevant to the DCMS Sporting Future Strategy and Sport England Evaluation Framework (health, wellbeing, individual development, community development). The target group of this study are young people aged 25 and below. Some key findings from the report include: 
    • There is a trust deficit dividing the UK: young people from lower socio-economic groups are 23% less likely to trust their neighbours compared to those from higher socio-economic groups.
    • Sport clubs can help bridge this trust deficit. Young people who are members of a local sports club have: Greater trust in other people; A stronger sense of belonging to their community; More close friends; Greater levels of life satisfaction, happiness and health; and, Greater desire to give back to their community through volunteering.
    • People from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to gain. When young people are part of a local sports club, those from low socio-economic groups report a ten-time higher increase in trust and a three-time higher increase in life satisfaction compared to those from higher socio-economic groups.
  • Incentives and physical activity: An assessment of the association between Vitality's Active Rewards with Apple Watch benefit and sustained physical activity improvements, Marco Hafner, Jack Pollard, Christian Van Stolk, RAND Corporation, (2018). Discovery commissioned RAND Europe to conduct an independent assessment on whether the Vitality Active Rewards with Apple Watch benefit is associated with increased physical activity levels for Vitality members that take up the benefit, compared to those individuals that only participate in the Vitality Active Rewards programme. The study also examined whether these associations persist over time.
  • Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport (PDF   - 1.6 MB), Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017). This review focused on the overall sports sector, with a particular emphasis on participation in sport and community level sport. While the synergies between participation and high performance sporting outcomes are recognised as being important to any discussion about the value of sport, the primary purpose of this review was a global view of the sport sector. By observing trends related to participation, performance, and consumption of ‘sport’ (i.e. in terms of products and services sports provide). Some key economic conclusions from the report were that: 
    • Sport provides the Australian economy annual combined economic, health and education benefits of $83 billion [p. 7].
    • Sport creates significant value with at least $7 returned on every dollar expended in the sector. This figure is a combination of: direct economic benefits, the network of volunteers and not-for-profits, avoided health costs, and education benefits [p. 9].
  • Modeling the economic and health impact of increasing children’s physical activity in the United States, Lee B, Adam A, Zenkov E,, Health Affairs, Volume 36(5), (2017). Quantifying the economic and health effects of physical activity intervention programs would help decision makers understand its impact and priority. Using a computational simulation model developed to represent all US children ages 8–11 years, this study estimated that maintaining the current physical activity levels (only 31.9% of children in the U.S. get twenty-five minutes of high-calorie-burning physical activity three times a week) would result each year in a net present value of $1.1 trillion in direct medical costs and $1.7 trillion in lost productivity over the course of their lifetimes. If 50% of children would exercise, the number of obese and overweight youth would decrease by 4.18%, averting $8.1 billion in direct medical costs and $13.8 billion in lost productivity; increasing the proportion of children who exercised to 75% would avert $16.6 billion and $23.6 billion, respectively.
  • Moving Ahead: The economic impact of reducing physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour, The Conference Board of Canada, (2014). Canadian physical activity guidelines indicate that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. This report explores the potential benefits that would ensue if 10% of the adult population improved their activity levels, in line with government recommended guidelines. It is estimated that such a change would significantly reduce the rates of major chronic health conditions, gross domestic product would increase by $7.5 billion, and health care spending would be reduced by $2.6 billion during the period 2015 to 2040.
  • Physical Activity 2014, Australian Medical Association, Position Statement, (2014). While physical activity forms part of the body’s energy balance equation, all too often the benefits of physical activity are only considered in relation to obesity and weight loss. The benefits of physical activity extend much further. Regular participation in physical activity is known to reduce the risk of physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, some cancers and osteoporosis. There is also evidence that regular participation in physical activity improves both short- and long- term psychosocial wellbeing by reducing feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Physical Activity and Incident Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies, Felipe B. Schuch, Davy Vancampfort, Joseph Firth,, American Journal of Psychiatry, (25 April 2018). This study concludes that available evidence supports the notion that physical activity can confer protection against the emergence of depression regardless of age and geographical region. A total of 49 unique prospective studies were identified. Compared with people with low levels of physical activity, those with high levels had lower odds of developing depression. Furthermore, physical activity had a protective effect against the emergence of depression in youths, adults, and elderly persons. Protective effects against depression were found across geographical regions, with adjusted odds ratios ranging from 0.65 to 0.84 in Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania, and against increased incidence of positive screen for depressive symptoms or major depression diagnosis. No moderators were identified.
  • Physical activity and mental well-being in a cohort aged 60–64 years (PDF  - 235 KB), Black S, Cooper R, Martin K, Brage S Kuh D and Stafford M, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 49(2), (2015). This study investigated the associations between physical activity in the form of walking for pleasure with mental wellbeing in a large sample of men and women age 60–64 years. The results showed that participation in walking for pleasure was associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing. Associations were robust when adjustment for gender, long-term limiting illness, educational attainment, financial status, smoking, work status, and personality were considered. 
  • Physical activity and sedentary behaviour: Evidence summary (PDF  - 869 KB), VicHealth, (2016). Regular physical activity contributes to good health across all life stages, whereas inactivity is one of the most significant risk factors, contributing to the global burden of disease. This evidence summary builds upon previous work and includes publications between 2009 and 2014. This report also includes physical activity statistics and trends for Victoria and Australia.
  • Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association, Colberg S, Sigal R, Yardley J, Riddell M, Dunstan D, Dempsey P, Horton E, Castorino K and Tate D, Diabetes Care, Volume 39(11), (2016). This position statement provides a clinically oriented review and evidence-based recommendations regarding physical activity and exercise in people with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes mellitus, and prediabetes. Physical activity includes all movement that increases energy use, whereas exercise is planned and structured physical activity. Regular exercise has considerable health benefits, including (but not limited to): improved blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes; reduced cardiovascular risk factors; a contribution to weight loss and weight management; and improved wellbeing. Physical activity and exercise recommendations should be tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual.
  • Prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease: targeting risk factors (PDF  - 2.2 MB), Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Catalogue Number PHE 118, (2009). Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease account for about one-quarter of the burden of disease in Australia, and just under two-thirds of all deaths. These three diseases often occur together and share common risk factors, including physical inactivity. This report includes information on the national prevalence of the main risk factors.
  • The relationship between organised recreational activity and mental health, Street G and James R, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, Curtin University, Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation, (accessed 19 July 2018). A review of current literature indicates that people who participate in sports clubs and organised recreational activity enjoy better mental health, are more alert, and more resilient against the stresses of modern living. Participation in recreational groups and socially supported physical activity is shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and may reduce some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Sources of resilience and their moderating relationships with harms from adverse childhood experiences, Karen Hughes, Kat Ford, Alisha R. Davies, Lucia Homolova, Mark A. Bellis, Public Health Wales NHS Trust, (2018). This report looked at the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and potential mitigating factors. They found that developing resilience through access to a trusted adult in childhood, supportive friends and being engaged in community activities, such as sports, reduced the risks of developing mental illness; even in those who experienced high levels of ACEs. Participation in sports, both as a child and adult, was a further source of resilience to mental illness, with being in current treatment for mental illness reducing from 23 per cent in adults that did not regularly participate in sports to 12 per cent in those that did.
  • Switch: Embracing active travel for health, Final Report, Swennen B, Baltatzi E, Panozzo N, Mayne K and Unbehaun W, European Union, (2016). The Switch project helped planning and transport practitioners conduct organised campaigns designed to get people to ‘switch’ from car journeys to walking and cycling. 
  • Towards More Physical Activity in Cities: Transforming public spaces to promote physical activity — a key contributor to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Europe, World Health Organisation (Europe) and the European Commission, (November 2017). This publication focuses on physical activity and how it can be supported through urban planning. With more than 80% of the European population expected to live in urban areas by 2030, cities play a pivotal role in promoting and protecting health and well-being. As cities continue to expand in population, there is a growing need to develop ways of supporting physical activity in dense urban settings.
  • Value of SwimmingSwim England, (November 2019). As the national governing body for swimming, water polo, diving and synchronised swimming in England, Swim England commissioned this research to build a robust evidence base around the specific benefits of water-based activity. The findings show how swimming can positively contribute to physical and mental wellbeing, to individual and community development, and help to reduce the burden to the health and social care system. Some of the key benefits suggested by this report include that swimming is already reducing health and social care costs by up to £357million a year. This includes estimated savings from dementia, strokes, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, depression, and reduced GP and psychotherapy visits by those who swim regularly. Additionally, across the different datasets analysed, a positive association was seen between swimming and: social connectedness; trust (in general and of neighbours); community cohesion; volunteering; percieved ability to achieve goals; life satisfaction; and, health and mental health. 
  • Yet another reason sport is good for you! Roy Morgan Research, Article 6118, (17 March 2015). The latest findings from Roy Morgan Research show that the 1.35 million Australian adults who participate regularly in some kind of team sport are noticeably less likely than the average Aussie to experience depression, anxiety or stress. Between 2013 and 2014, 25% of Australians aged 18+ reported experiencing stress at some point in the preceding 12 months, compared with 21% of those who regularly play a team sport. This difference is most striking among the under-25 age group, with all three conditions being far less common among those who play team sport on a regular basis. Incidence of anxiety fell from 31% to 17%, depression from 17% to 8%, and anxiety from 20% to 10%.

Research iconResearch 

  • A life-long approach to physical activity for brain health, Macpherson H, Teo W, Schneider L and Smith A, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Volume 9, (2017). Growing evidence documents the importance of physical activity (PA) for brain health, with numerous studies indicating regular engagement in physical activities throughout life may be protective against cognitive decline and dementia in later life. The link between PA and brain health may be different at each stage of life from childhood, mid-life, and late life. This review summarises the current body of evidence linking regular PA and brain health across the lifespan.
    1. During Childhood – Throughout infancy, childhood and adolescence, the brain undergoes dramatic change, with maturational processes occurring concurrently with, and in response to, functional gains in sensory, cognitive and behavioural domains. In particular, the first 5 years of life correspond with significant neurodevelopmental processes. There is growing evidence that regular engagement in PA during childhood can influence gray and white matter integrity, and this may have implications for cognitive development. Bilateral hippocampal volumes have been shown to be markedly increased in fitter, compared to less fit, 9 and 10 year old children and associated with better relational memory performance. PA interventions in childhood have the potential to improve white matter microstructural integrity.
    2. Mid-life – The mid-life stage represents another critical period during which regular engagement in PA may preserve or even improve cognitive health later in life. The key findings from several studies revealed a positive association between PA and larger total brain volume, specifically attributed to increased cerebral gray matter volume, after adjustment for confounding variables (e.g. education, nutrition, socio-economic status). These findings indicate that PA is important and likely influences a range of different biological processes. Whilst the direct relationship between mid-life PA and brain structure is yet to be confirmed, there are a number of other well established indirect relationships between PA and vascular function that should be taken into account.
    3. Older people – Declines in cognitive function can accelerate after age 60, with fluid cognitive processes such as working memory, processing speed and executive function particularly vulnerable to age-related impairment. In a recent investigation using data from a longitudinal heart study, individuals over the age of 60 who scored in the lowest quintile of a PA index also had an increased 10 year risk of dementia incidence compared to those with higher PA. Importantly, results from this study also indicate that greater global and hippocampal brain volume is related to higher levels of PA. These findings are consistent with observations of the neuroprotective effects of exercise from other cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations. The premise that regular participation in PA can exert a neuroprotective effect on the aging brain is supported by research examining the relationship between PA, cardiorespiratory fitness, and the microstructural integrity of the brain white matter.
  • A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for adults: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport, Rochelle M Eime, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, (2013). This paper presents the results of a systematic review of the psychological and social health benefits of participation in sport by adults. There were many different psychological and social health benefits reported, with the most common being wellbeing and reduced distress and stress. Sport, particularly club-based or team-based sport, seems to be associated with improved psychosocial health in addition to improvements attributable to participation in PA. Notwithstanding this, individuals who prefer to participate in sport by themselves can still derive mental health benefits which can enhance the development of true-self-awareness and personal growth which is essential for social health. The authors also develop a conceptual model of Health through Sport based on the review results but recommend that further research into the causal link between sport and health is required.
  • ACSM Scientific Pronouncements: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, American College of Sports Medicine, (2019). ACSM is pleased to present the scientific reviews underlying the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines. Health professionals, scientists, community organizations and policymakers can use the papers included in the ACSM Scientific Pronouncements: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition to promote more active, healthier lifestyles for individuals and communities.
  • Amount and Intensity of Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Lower Cancer Risk, Charles E. Matthews,, Journal of Clinical Oncology, (26 December 2019). A total of 755,459 participants (median age, 62 years [range, 32-91 years]; 53% female) were followed for 10.1 years, and 50,620 incident cancers accrued. Engagement in recommended amounts of activity (7.5-15 MET hours/week) was associated with a statistically significant lower risk of 7 of the 15 cancer types studied, including colon (8%-14% lower risk in men), breast (6%-10% lower risk), endometrial (10%-18% lower risk), kidney (11%-17% lower risk), myeloma (14%-19% lower risk), liver (18%-27% lower risk), and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (11%-18% lower risk in women). The dose response was linear in shape for half of the associations and nonlinear for the others. Results for moderate- and vigorous-intensity leisure-time physical activity were mixed. Adjustment for body mass index eliminated the association with endometrial cancer but had limited effect on other cancer types.
  • Associations Between Physical Activity and Depressive Symptoms by Weight Status Among Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: Results From Diabetes MILES–Australia, Melinda J. Craike,, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Volume 14(3), pp.195-202, (2016). PA is associated with fewer depressive symptoms among adults with Type 2DM, however the amount of PA associated with fewer depressive symptoms varies according to weight status. Lower amounts of PA might be required for people who are obese to achieve meaningful reductions in depressive symptoms compared with those who are healthy weight or overweight. Further research is needed to establish the direction of the relationship between PA and depressive symptoms.
  • Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study, Sammi R Chekroud, et al., The Lancet Psychiatry, Volume 5(9), pp.739-746, (September 2018). This cross-sectional study analysed data from 1,237,194 people aged 18 years or older in the USA from the 2011, 2013, and 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System survey. It compared the number of days of bad self-reported mental health between individuals who exercised and those who did not. The findings indicated that individuals who exercised had 1·49 (43·2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and socio-demographic characteristics. All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden (minimum reduction of 11·8% and maximum reduction of 22·3%) than not exercising. The largest associations were seen for popular team sports (22·3% lower), cycling (21·6% lower), and aerobic and gym activities (20·1% lower), as well as durations of 45 min and frequencies of three to five times per week.
  • Association of Team Sports Participation With Long-term Mental Health Outcomes Among Individuals Exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences, Easterlin MC, Chung PJ, Leng M, Dudovitz R. et al., JAMA Pediatrics, Volume 173(7), pp.681-688, (2019). In this study of 9668 individuals from a nationally representative database, among those with adverse childhood experiences, team sports participation during adolescence was significantly associated with better adult mental health outcomes, especially for males, including lower likelihood of having ever received a diagnosis of depression or anxiety and having current depressive symptoms. The findings suggest that participation in team sports is associated with better adult mental health outcomes among individuals exposed to adverse childhood experiences. 
  • Associations of Fitness, Physical Activity, Strength, and Genetic Risk With Cardiovascular Disease: Longitudinal Analyses in the UK Biobank Study, Emmi Tikkanen, Stefan Gustafsson, Erik Ingelsson, Circulation, Volume 137(17), (April 2018). The authors investigated whether or not physical activity demonstrated a reduction in the incidence of cardio vascular disease in both the general population as well as individuals with elevated genetic risk for these diseases. They found that higher grip strength and cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with lower risk of incident coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation in each genetic risk score group. And, in particular, high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with 49% lower risk for coronary heart disease and 60% lower risk for atrial fibrillation among individuals at high genetic risk for these diseases.
  • Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity Across the Adult Life Course With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality, Pedro F. Saint-Maurice,, JAMA Network Open, Volume 2(3), (2019). This cohort study of 315,059 participants investigated whether there was an association between patterns in leisure-time physical activity occurring during adolescence (15-18 years of age) or early (19-29 years of age), middle (35-39 years of age), and later (40-61 years of age) adulthood and all-cause or cause-specific mortality? The authors found that maintaining physical activity from adolescence into later adulthood was associated with 29% to 36% lower risk for all-cause mortality and that being inactive but increasing physical activity during midlife was associated with 32% to 35% lower risk for mortality. This suggests that although long-term participation in physical activity may be important to lower mortality risk, the present study provides evidence that becoming physically active later in adulthood (40-61 years of age) may provide comparable health benefits.
  • Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults, Steven C. Moore et al., JAMA Internal Medicine, Volume 176(6), pp.816-825, (June 2016). In this study of pooled data from 12 US and European cohorts, high vs low levels of leisure-time physical activity were associated with lower risks of 13 of 26 cancers. Most of these associations were evident regardless of body size or smoking history.
  • Australian Indigenous youth's participation in sport and associated health outcomes: Empirical analysis and implications (PDF  - 177 KB), Dalton B, Wilson R, Evans J and Cochrane S, Sport Management Review, Volume 18(1), (2015). Analysis of the 2012 Mission Australia Youth Survey (MAYS) finds that among Indigenous youth aged 15–19 years there is a positive relationship between self-reported participation in sport and two health outcomes – rating of overall health and risk of mental health disorder. Indigenous youth who participate in sport are 3.5 times more likely to report good general health and 1.6 times more likely to have no probable serious mental illness. The significance of these findings may address the current gaps in preventive health service delivery to Indigenous communities, and for the development of grassroots, evidence-based, well resourced, culturally sensitive, inclusive and community-led programs.
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Depression, and Physical Activity: Making the Neuroplastic Connection, Cristy Phillips, Neural Plasticity, Volume 2017, Article ID 7260130, (2017). The data presented in this article suggests that moderate physical activity—a target that is practical, well tolerated, and likely to optimise exercise adherence—optimises BDNF and plasticity, particularly in persons with depression. Physical activity is already used as a relatively low-risk treatment option for managing depression, future population health efforts should consider how lifestyle factors can be used to treat and/or prevent mental disorders as part of the rehabilitation process. 
  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Gray Matter Volume in the Temporal, Frontal, and Cerebellar Regions in the General Population, Katharina Wittfeld,, MAYO Clinic Proceedings, Volume 95(1), pp.44-56, (January 2020). To analyze the association between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and global and local brain volumes. Cardiorespiratory fitness was positively associated with GM volume, total brain volume, and specific GM and white matter clusters in brain areas not primarily involved in movement processing. These results, from a representative population sample, suggest that CRF might contribute to improved brain health and might, therefore, decelerate pathology-specific GM decrease.
  • The cascade of positive events: Does exercise on a given day increase the frequency of additional positive events? Kevin C.Young, Kyla A. Machell, Todd B. Kashdan, Margaret L. Westwater, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 120, pp.299-303, (January 2018). Research suggests exercise promotes well-being while reducing the risk and symptoms of certain psychiatric disorders. Similarly, positive events improve quality of life and may minimize the impact of negative life events; a dearth of positive events is also associated with increased psychiatric symptoms. Thus, increasing physical exercise and the occurrence of positive events is central to well-being promotion. For three weeks, participants (N = 179) completed questionnaires at the end of each day. Multi-level modeling analyses revealed that daily exercise predicted increased positive social and achievement events on the same day. Exercise on one day also predicted greater positive social events on the subsequent day. Positive events did not affect exercise on the next day. Findings suggest that exercise creates a positive cascade, increasing positive social and achievement events experienced on the same day and positive social events on the following day.
  • Childhood Sport Profiles Predict Mental Health in Adolescence, Isabelle Doré, Marie-Pierre Sylvestre, Catherine M Sabiston, Francois Gallant, Conference paper presented at the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity conference, Hong Kong. (June 2018).  This study examines the longitudinal associations between three sport profiles (recreational, performance, non-participation) in childhood and mental health in adolescence. Participants include 756 children age 10-11 years at inception, from the longitudinal Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) study. They self-reported their participation in organized and unorganized PA in questionnaires administered every 4 months over 5 years during class time. Involvement in performance or recreational sport profiles in all 5 years was associated with flourishing mental health, relative to involvement in ≤4 years. the authors conclude that sport participation, especially in performance sport, during childhood and adolescence is associated with higher mental health in adolescence. If replicated, these findings support developing strategies to encourage children to engage and remain involved in sports into adolescence, to positively impact mental health.
  • Contribution of High School Sport Participation to Young Adult Bone Strength, Ward, Ryan C. et al., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 51(5), pp,1064–1072, (May 2019). This study assessed longitudinal effects of high school sport participation and muscle power on young adult bone strength. It found slightly different effects for male and female sport participants with former male interscholastic sport participants (in both power and non-power sports) having stronger bones than peers even when adjusting for current PA levels. For female interscholastic athletes the association was only with power sport participants. The authors conclude that muscle power alone did not fully explain differences in all bone outcomes, suggesting that sport participation has additional bone health benefits.
  • Does sports club participation contribute to health-related quality of life? Eime R, Harvey J, Brown W and Payne W, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Volume 42(5), (2010). This research looks at how community sports clubs provide opportunities for social interaction through both structured (organised and competitive) and unstructured (social) participation in sport, it has been suggested that involvement in club sport may impact positively on social wellbeing and mental health.
  • The dose–response effect of physical activity on cancer mortality: findings from 71 prospective cohort studies, Li T, Wei S, Shi Y, Pang S, Qin Q, Yin J, Deng Y, Chen Q, Wei S, Nie S and Liu L, British Journal of Sports Medicine, (18 September 2015). Physical activity is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat the increasing risk of death from chronic diseases. A meta-analysis was conducted to assess the association between physical activity and cancer mortality and the WHO recommendations to reduce the latter. A total of 71 cohort studies met the inclusion criteria and were analysed. The meta-analysis supports the current physical activity recommendations from WHO to reduce cancer mortality in both the general population and in cancer survivors. The data infer that physical activity after a cancer diagnosis may result in significant protection among cancer survivors.
  • The Economic Burden Of Physical Inactivity: A Global Analysis Of Major Non-Communicable Diseases, Ding Ding, Kenny Lawson, Tracy Kolbe-Alexander,, The Lancet, Volume 388(10051), pp.1311-1324, (September 2016). Conservatively estimated, physical inactivity cost health-care systems international $ (INT$) 53·8 billion worldwide in 2013, of which $31·2 billion was paid by the public sector, $12·9 billion by the private sector, and $9·7 billion by households. In addition, physical inactivity related deaths contribute to $13·7 billion in productivity losses, and physical inactivity was responsible for 13·4 million DALYs worldwide. High-income countries bear a larger proportion of economic burden (80·8% of health-care costs and 60·4% of indirect costs), whereas low-income and middle-income countries have a larger proportion of the disease burden (75·0% of DALYs). Sensitivity analyses based on less conservative assumptions led to much higher estimates.
  • Economic Impact of Moderate‐Vigorous Physical Activity Among Those With and Without Established Cardiovascular Disease: 2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Javier Valero‐Elizondo, Joseph A. Salami, Chukwuemeka U. Osondu,, Journal of the American Heart Association, Volume 5(9), (September 2016). The researchers provide evidence that participants reporting moderate‐vigorous PA generally incurred significantly lower health care expenditures and resource utilization, displaying a step‐wise lower total annual health care expenditure as moving from CVD to non‐CVD (and each CRF category). These estimates suggest the significant potential for health care savings through optimizing PA levels as a mean to favorably impact the increasing burden of CVD and associated costs.
  • Effect of aerobic exercise on cognition in younger adults: A randomized clinical trial, Yaakov Stern,, Neurology, (published online 30 January 2019). This randomized clinical trial demonstrates the efficacy of aerobic exercise for cognition in adults age 20–67. The effect of aerobic exercise on executive function was more pronounced as age increased, suggesting that it may mitigate age-related declines. Increased cortical thickness suggests that aerobic exercise contributes to brain health in individuals as young as age 20. 
  • The effects of physical activity and exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy humans: A review. Huang, T., Larsen, K. T., Ried-Larsen, M., Møller, N. C. and Andersen, L.B. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, Volume 24, pp.1–10, (2014). The purpose of this study was to summarize the effects of physical activity and exercise on peripheral brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in healthy humans. Evidence from experimental studies suggested that peripheral BDNF concentrations were elevated by acute and chronic aerobic exercise. The majority of the studies suggested that strength training had no influence on peripheral BDNF. The results from most observational studies suggested an inverse relationship between the peripheral BDNF level and habitual physical activity or cardiorespiratory fitness. More research is needed to confirm the findings from the observational studies.
  • Estimating the future burden of cancers preventable by better diet and physical activity in Australia, Baade P,, Medical Journal of Australia, Volume 196(5), (2012). The objective of this research was to estimate the number of cancers to be diagnosed in 2025 that could be prevented solely due to changes in diet and physical activity. The authors conclude that about 25% of cancers, or about 43 000 cancers in 2025, can potentially be prevented through improvements in diet and physical activity. It is imperative that governments, clinicians and researchers act now if we are to reduce the significant future human and financial burden of cancer.
  • Exercise as medicine – evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in 26 different chronic diseases, Pedersen B and Saltin B, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, Volume 25, Issue Supplement S3, (2015). This review provides an up-to-date evidence-based assessment for prescribing exercise as medicine in the treatment of 26 different diseases: psychiatric diseases (depression, anxiety, stress, schizophrenia); neurological diseases (dementia, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis); metabolic diseases (obesity, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome, type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes); cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure, cerebral apoplexy, and claudication intermittent); pulmonary diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis); musculo-skeletal disorders (osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, rheumatoid arthritis); and cancer. The effect of exercise therapy on disease pathogenesis and symptoms are given and the possible mechanisms of action are discussed.
  • Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective (PDF  - 13.5 MB), World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, (2007). This report systematically reviews and assesses the worldwide body of evidence on food, nutrition, physical activity and 17 cancers. An Expert Panel of 21 world-renowned scientists reviewed the findings and made judgements based on the evidence; overall, about 200 scientists and other experts were involved. Chapters 5 and 6 are concerned with physical activity and with body composition, growth, and development. The general recommendation is that persons should be physically active as part of everyday life across the entire lifespan. Adults should be at least moderately active, equivalent to brisk walking for at least 30 minutes every day; as fitness improves, moderate activity should extend to 60 minutes per day or 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity. All forms of physical activity protect against some cancers, as well as against weight gain, overweight, and obesity; correspondingly, sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of many cancers, overweight and obesity.
  • Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence, Warburton D, Nicol C and Bredin S, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Volume 174(6), (2006). An evaluation of current literature confirms that there is irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death. There appears to be a linear relationship between physical activity and health status, such that even small increases in physical activity and fitness will lead to additional improvements in health status. Health promotion programs using physical activity should target people of all ages, since the risk of chronic disease starts in childhood and increases with age.
  • How the 2018 US Physical Activity Guidelines are a Call to Promote and Better Understand Acute Physical Activity for Cognitive Function Gains, Yu-Kai Chang,, Sports Medicine, Volume 49(11), pp.1625-1627, (November 2019). The new 2018 edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAGA18) released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [1] and directly informed by the 779-page 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report [2] will undoubtedly change how we promote and research physical activity (PA). For the first time, PAGA18 include new insights on the role of a single session of PA for cognitive function and brain health, suggesting that the scientific evidence supporting PA benefits on cognitive function and brain health has matured. In addition, considering the difficulty in initiating and adhering to a long-term exercise program, cognitive function benefits from a single bout may provide a new approach to promote exercise for people who are not ready yet to adopt and adhere to an ongoing habitual exercise routine. 
  • Interrelation of sport participation, physical activity, social capital and mental health in disadvantaged communities: A SEM-analysis, Marlier M, Van Dyck D, Cardon G, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Babiak K and Wilem A, PLOSOne, (9 October 2015). The present study aims to uncover how sport participation, physical activity, social capital and mental health are interrelated by examining these outcomes in one model. A cross-sectional sample from disadvantaged communities in Antwerp, Belgium were surveyed. Adults, aged 18–56 (N=414) were randomly selected and visited at home to fill out a questionnaire on socio-demographics, sport participation, physical activity, social capital and mental health. This study highlighted the importance of sport participation and individual social capital to improve mental health in disadvantaged communities. It further gives additional insights into the interrelated nature of these factors. Implications for policy are that cross-sector initiatives between the sport and the social and health sectors need to be directly linked to one another.
  • Is sport enough? Contribution of sport to overall moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity among adolescents, Harriet Koorts, Anna Timperio, Lauren Arundell, Kate Parker, Gavin Abbott, and Jo Salmon, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, (27 June 2019). Participants (mean 15.3 years, 59% female) spent a mean (SD) of 68.6 (27.4) min/day in MVPA and 50% reported participating in any sport. Those who participated in sport did so 3.4 times/week on average and accumulated 7 min/day of MVPA more than those who did no sport. For each additional sport participated in, on average, there were approximately 5 additional min/day of MVPA. The number and frequency of sports participation explained 3.2% and 3.8% of the variance in MVPA respectively. Participation in field hockey and gymnastics explained 2.2% and 3.6% of the variance in MVPA, respectively. There were no moderating effects. The authors conclude that sport appears to make a very small contribution to adolescents’ average daily physical activity. Effectiveness of approaches to increasing youth population levels of physical activity via sports participation needs to be tested. 
  • Lactate Is an Antidepressant That Mediates Resilience to Stress by Modulating the Hippocampal Levels and Activity of Histone Deacetylases, Nabil Karnib,, Neuropsychopharmacology, Volume 44(6), pp.1152-1162, (May 2019). Chronic stress promotes depression in some individuals, but has no effect in others. Susceptible individuals exhibit social avoidance and anxious behavior and ultimately develop depression, whereas resilient individuals live normally. Exercise counteracts the effects of stress. Our objective was to examine whether lactate, a metabolite produced during exercise and known to reproduce specific brain exercise-related changes, promotes resilience to stress and acts as an antidepressant.
  • Marital Benets of Daily Individual and Conjoint Exercise Among Older Couples, Jeremy Yorgason,, Family Relations: interdisciplinary journal of applied family science, 67, pp.227-239, (April 2018). This article examines daily patterns of exercise among older husbands and wives, as well as how conjoint exercise was related to daily marital functioning outcomes through a sample of 191 older couples included as part of a broader study. Results indicate that individual exercise on a given day was associated with more positive marital events and higher daily marital satisfaction; patterns in these results were more consistent for wives than for husbands. Conjoint exercise on a given day was also associated with nearly all marital outcomes for both husbands and wives.
  • Midlife cardovascular fitness and dementia: a 44-year longitudinal population study in women, Helena Hörder, Lena Johansson, XinXin Guo,, Neurology, (March 2018). Among Swedish women, a high cardiovascular fitness in midlife was associated with a decreased risk of subsequent dementia. Promotion of a high cardiovascular fitness may be included in strategies to mitigate or prevent dementia. Findings are not causal, and future research needs to focus on whether improved fitness could have positive effects on dementia risk and when during the life course a high cardiovascular fitness is most important.
  • Physical activity and annual medical outlay in U.S. colorectal, breast and prostate cancer survivors, Alice F. Yan, Yang Wang, Alexander V. Ng, Preventive Medicine Reports, Volume 9, pp.118-123, (March 2018). Analysis of both physical activity behaviour and health care expenditure for individuals with select cancer locations demonstrated that higher levels of physical activity could provide a significant reduction in health expenditure. Expenditure in adherence group was $9108.8 pa (95% CI 7410.9–10,806.7) versus 12,899.1 pa (95% CI 11,450.2–14,348) in non-adherence group. Stratified analyses revealed cancer survivors who adhered to their PA recommendation saved $4686.1 (1–5 years' survival time) and $2874.5 (11 or more years' survival time) on average pa for total health care expenditure, respectively. These findings have implications for both individuals and governments in relation to potential savings in health expenditure for patients with cancer, and potentially other diseases. 
  • Physical activity and health in adolescence (PDF  - 331 KB), Kumar B, Robinson R and Till S, Clinical Medicine, Volume 15(3), (2015). Adolescence represents a critical period of development during which personal lifestyle choices and behaviour patterns are established, including the choice to be physically active. This article reviews the literature on physical activity (PA), health, and physical fitness, and makes a number of observations; including:
    • The proportion of active individuals declines significantly in adolescence, with girls tending to be less active than boys.
    • Studies indicate continuous periods of sedentariness pose more potent health risks than obesity.
    • If everyone (in the population) had a ‘moderate’ level of cardio-respiratory fitness, overall mortality would be reduced by about 17%, whereas if no one were obese, the risk reduction would be approximately 2–3%.
    • There is an inverse correlation between PA and all-cause mortality. Regular PA in youth improves cardiovascular physiology, including blood pressure, lipid profile, insulin sensitivity and endothelial function.
    • The authors advocate a PA ‘prescription’ for all young people as part of their individual healthcare plan.
  • Physical activity and incident chronic diseases: A longitudinal observational study in 16 European countries, de Souto Barreto P, Cesari M, Andrieu S, Vellas B and Rolland Y, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, (13 October 2016). This study examined a large sample of people from 16 European countries to determine the predictive value of physical activity frequency and intensity on the incidence of heart diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and various types of cancer. This study concluded that doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least once a week (which is less than current recommendations in terms of frequency) is associated with reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes among middle-aged and older adults. In addition, the magnitude of the associations increased with higher frequencies (i.e. more than once per week) for both moderate and vigorous physical activity. 
  • Physical Activity from Childhood to Adulthood and Cognitive Performance in Midlife, Hakala, Juuso O.,, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 51(5), pp.882-890, (May 2019). This study investigated the association between PA from childhood to adulthood and midlife cognitive performance. Cumulative exposure to PA from childhood to adulthood was found to be associated with better midlife reaction time. Furthermore, cumulative PA exposure in young adulthood and adulthood was associated with better visual processing and sustained attention in men. All associations were independent of participants PA level in other measured age frames. Therefore, a physically active lifestyle should be adopted already in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood and continued into midlife to ensure the plausible benefits of PA on midlife cognitive performance.
  • Physical activity, sports participation, and suicidal behavior among college students, Brown D, Blanton C, Medicine and Science In Sports And Exercise, Volume 34(7), (2002). This study found that sports participation was protective against suicidal behavior among college students in the United States.
  • Preventing dementia by promoting physical activity and the long-term impact on health and social care expenditures, van Baal P, Hoogendoom M and Fischer A, Preventive Medicine, Volume 85, (2016). Promoting physical activity in the English middle-aged (ages 40 to 65 years) population has the potential to improve population health and increase life expectancy. This research constructed an economic model to estimate the financial benefit to health and social care costs in England. The aim was to determine if preventing or delaying dementia by promoting physical activity could improve population health and reduce government expenditure. It was estimated that if the English population aged 40 to 65 were to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines, life expectancy would increase by 0.23 years and health and social care expenditure would decrease by £400 per person. 
  • Physical exercise and cognitive function across the life span: Results of a nationwide population-based study, Beate Gaertner,, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 21(5), pp.489-494, (May 2018). In this large, nationwide population-based study of adults aged 18–79 years in Germany, more hours of physical exercise per week were associated with better executive function and memory in cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis with no evidence for differential effects by age,  indicating consistent associations across the adult life span. These findings support public health interventions to increase physical activity to preserve and potentially improve cognitive health over the lifespan. Future studies on physical activity and cognitive function should include broad age ranges and long-term follow-up to maximise understanding of effective interventions across the lifecourse.
  • Relationship between weight status and cognition in children: A mediation analysis of physical fitness components, Abel Ruiz-Hermosa,, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 38(1), pp.13-20, (2020).  Cross-sectional study aimed to analyse differences in cognitive performance across fitness components categories (cardiorespiratory fitness [CRF], speed-agility and muscular fitness [MF]) and weight status in children, and to determine whether physical fitness mediates the association between body mass index (BMI) and cognitive performance. Children with normal weight scored better in spatial factor and general intelligence than their overweight/obese peers (p < 0.05), but differences were attenuated when controlling for CRF (p > 0.05). Children with better results in CRF and speed-agility scored better in all cognitive dimensions even after controlling for BMI (p < 0.05). Similarly, children with high MF obtained better scores in verbal factor (p < 0.05). All fitness components acted as mediators of the relationship between BMI and general intelligence (p < 0.05). These findings highlight the crucial role of fitness in minimising the negative effect of excess weight on children’s cognition.
  • Sitting Time, Physical Activity, and Risk of Mortality in Adults, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Joanne Gale, Adrian Bauman, Ulf Ekelund, Mark Hamer and Ding Ding, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Volume 73(16), (April 2019). The purpose of this study was to examine the joint and stratified associations of sitting and moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) with all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, and to estimate the theoretical effect of replacing sitting time with physical activity, standing, and sleep. The results indicate that sitting is associated with all-cause and CVD mortality risk among the least physically active adults; moderate-to-vigorous physical activity doses equivalent to meeting the current recommendations attenuate or effectively eliminate such associations.
  • What about sport? A public health perspective on leisure-time physical activity, Berg B, Warner S and Das B, Sport Management Review, Volume 18(1), (2015). In an effort to determine how sport could be better positioned on the public health agenda, three community physical activity programs aimed at combating obesity were examined to determine the benefits residents seek through their participation. The results reveal that new approaches need to be considered for promoting greater levels of participation in U.S. community sport and other leisure-time physical activity programs. Instead of the commonly emphasized benefits of physical health or appearance, the results demonstrate that hedonic rewards and opportunities for social interaction are two overlooked, yet primary benefits sought by participants. This research suggests that concerted efforts to focus on the hedonic feelings and social aspects can potentially lead to increased sport participation and holistic health. Such an approach may help better address vital public health policy issues while demonstrating the distinctiveness and utility of sport.

Video iconVideos

Australian physical activity (PA) guidelines

    Babies (under 1 year)

    • At least 30 mins a day interactive floor-based play (e.g. reaching, grasping, pushing, pulling, crawling, etc.) 
    • Should not be restrained for more than 60mins at a time; screen time is not recommended
    • Good quality sleep, including naps: 14-17 hours (0-3 months); 12-16 hours (4-11 months) 

    Toddlers (1-2)

    • At least 180 mins a day of energetic play (e.g. running, jumping, twirling, etc.)
    • Should not be restrained for more than 60mins at a time; limit sedentary screen time
    • 11-14 hours good quality sleep, including naps, with consistent routine

    Pre-school (3-5)

    • At least 180mins PA daily;
    • No more than 60mins of sedentary screen use daily;
    • Should not be restrained for more than 60mins at a time.
    • 10-13 hours good quality sleep (may include a nap), with consistent sleep/wake times

    Children and Youth (5-17)*

    • At least 60mins MVPA daily; strength exercises 3 days per week;
    • No more than 120mins sedentary screen time daily;
    • Minimise long periods of sitting.
    • Aim for uninterrupted night-time sleep with consistent routine, 9-11 hours (5-13 years); 8-10 hours (14-17 years)

    Adults (18-64)

    • Be active most days;
    • Accumulate 150-300mins MVPA per week;
    • Strength exercises 2 days per week.
    • Minimise and break up long periods of sitting.

    Older (65+)

    • Be active most days;
    • Aim for 30mins moderate activity per day;
    • Mix of fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.
MVPA = Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity 
*This group includes those aged 5 who are in full-time schooling 

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Australian guidelines

Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, Department of Health. These guidelines are supported by a rigorous evidence review process, based on the best available evidence relating to the relationship between physical activity (i.e. amount, frequency, intensity and type of physical activity) and health outcome indicators (i.e. risk of chronic disease and obesity), and the relationship between sedentary behaviour (i.e. sitting or lying down for extended periods, except when sleeping) and health outcome indicators.

Australian policies

Australia: the Healthiest Country by 2020 (PDF  - 835 KB), Australian Government, National Preventive Health Taskforce, Department of Health and Aging, (2009). Interventions that address behavioral change are a central part of the Government’s preventative health strategy. Seven strategic directions are identified: (1) shared responsibility at all levels of government and developing strategic partnerships with non-government sectors; (2) acting early and throughout life with intervention programs; (3) engaging communities in settings where they live, work, play, and go to school; (4) influencing markets; (5) reducing inequity, (6) Indigenous Australians, and; (7) refocus of primary healthcare towards prevention.
  • Taking preventive action (PDF  - 1.2 MB), a response to 'Australia: the Healthiest Country by 2020', Commonwealth Government, (2010). This report proposes a phased approach to the implementation of recommended actions. The first phase of four years initiates priority actions; the second phase builds on these actions, learning from new research and the experiences of program implementation and trials; and the third phase ensures long-term sustained action.
NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy: Preventing overweight and obesity in New South Wales 2013-2018 (PDF  - 2.1 MB). This strategy provides a whole of government framework to promote and support healthy eating and active living in NSW and to reduce the impact of lifestyle-related chronic disease. The Strategy aims to encourage and support the community to make healthy lifestyle changes at a personal level, and create an environment that supports healthier living through better planning, built environments and transport solutions. 

A Healthy Tasmania: Setting new directions for health and wellbeing (PDF  - 4.7 MB), Tasmanian Government, Department of Health and Human Services, (2012). This report outlines a whole of government approach to building a healthier community, including health promotion programs targeting increased physical activity.

Physical Activity Strategy 2018-2023VicHealth, (2018). Aims to increase the number of Victorians who are physically active – making being active part of everyday life. Key foci of the strategy are children aged 5-12 years; young people aged 12-17 years; and women and girls.

Young people health and wellbeing strategy 2017–19VicHealth, (December 2017). This strategy will contribute to better health and wellbeing in Victoria through the range of actions outlined below. VicHealth’s broader body of work outside this strategy will support these actions at a whole-of-population level. The strategy is partly in response to concerns about rising obesity and decreasing physical activity trends in the youth population. 
Western Australian Health Promotion Strategic Framework 2017–2021 (PDF  - 5.4 MB), Government of Western Australia, Department of Health, (2017). This is a five-year plan to reduce preventable chronic disease and injury in Western Australian communities; section 4.3 ‘A More Active WA’.

Research iconResearch

  • Physical activity across the life stages. Cat. no. PHE 225, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (2018). This report presents information on the physical activity and sedentary participation rate of Australians across the life stages, reported against Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. According to the most recent available data, 30% of children aged 2–17 and 44% of adults aged 18 and over met the physical activity guidelines. Most children exceeded the recommended amount of sedentary screen-based activity time, while the amount of time spent sitting at leisure increased in adults as aged increased.

Video iconVideos

  • How long have you been sitting there? National Heart Foundation of Australia/YouTube, (30 April 2018). Video to promote the message that 'any physical activity is better than none'. Advises people to get active in small bouts, building up to meeting the current Australian PA guidelines for most adults (30 minutes of moderate activity; 5 times per week), and references potential health benefits, particularly for the heart.  

Current state

picture of primary school age child with backpack 67% of Australians aged 18+ and 25% of children aged 2-17 are overweight or obese. Insufficient physical activity, when considered together with overweight and obesity prevalence, account for 9% of the total disease burden in Australia—the same as tobacco smoking (the leading risk factor).

55% of Australian adults (18-64 years) do not meet the Australian PA guidelines for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). 92% of young people (13-17 years), 74% of children (5-12 years), 66% of pregnant women, and 75% of older people (65+ years) also do not fully meet the recommended PA guidelines for MVPA for their age groups. 

For adults (18-64) in 2017-18 only 23% meet the strength-based activity guideline and only 15% meet both the MVPA and strength-based activity guidelines.  

Evidence also suggests that most children are not effectively limiting sedentary screen-based activity with only 25% children aged 2–5; 35% children aged 5–12; and 20% children aged 13–17 meeting the sedentary screen-based behaviour guideline. Adolescent boys (13-17 years) were least likely to meet this guideline85% not meeting compared with 74% of adolescent girls. 

Differences also exist between different socio-economic groups (those in higher socioeconomic groups are more likely to meet guidelines) and between indigenous and non-indigenous groups (indigenous children are generally more active than non-indigenous but indigenous adults are generally less active than non-indigenous).  

Frequently identified barriers to participation include: time, cost, transport, and access to facilities and equipment. For older Australians (65+) poor health or injury are cited as barriers by almost half of the population (48%). 


Small changes add up - just 15 mins more of brisk walking by each person 5 days a week could cut Australia’s disease burden due to insufficient physical activity by about 14%. If this time rose to 30 minutes, the burden could be reduced by 26%.
Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Finder iconPrograms

  • Bright sports, physical activity investments that work: implementing brain breaks in Malaysian primary schools, Garry Kuan, Hussein Rizal, Mawar Siti Hajar,, British Journal of Sports Medicine, (published online 21 February 2019). Brain Breaks Physical Activity Solutions is an interactive online resource designed for the classroom setting that involves web-based structured classroom physical activity. At the core of Brain Breaks is are movement and cognitive activity. It is part of a GCH project, developed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, that involves whole school, community and child framework. The programme is supported by the United Nations as part of the 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals under the goals of good health and well-being. Access to the Brain Breaks videos only requires internet access ( and a projector to display the physical activity videos.
  • Bright spots physical activity investments that work: Youth-Physical Activity Towards Health (Y-PATH), Belton S, O’Brien W, McGann J, et al., British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 53(4), pp.208-212, (2019). A national program in the Republic of Ireland Y-PATH is a multicomponent school-based programme, based on a combination of self-determination theory, and the socioecological model. The ‘active ingredients’ can be broken down into three categories (1) Physical education (PE) component, ‘PE 4 ME’, (2) Whole-school teacher component. (3) Parent/guardian component. 
  • Kids Run Club. A free school-based running program designed to give children and youth an opportunity to be active through running. The program was created by Doctors Nov Scotia in Canada with the goal of giving children and youth a chance to be active and to learn about healthy lifestyles. The best part about Kids Run Club is it can be adapted for kids of all ages and abilities. This club teaches participants about proper technique and pacing, and how to balance the challenge of running with taking breaks so that all experience success and, of course, have fun!
  • PLAN-A. Peer power to get girls more active! PLAN-A harnesses the power of influential girls in Year 8 to get the rest of their year group moving.
  • UniSport partners with Sport Australia to launch UniMoves programme, Nancy Gillen, Inside the Games, (28 September 2019). The MyWellness platform enables staff and students to track their activity, compete in challenges against each other, gain access to an array of fitness programs and find out about all the activities happening on campus.


  • Adapting to secondary school: why the physical environment is important too, Brendon Hyndman, Senior Lecturer, Charles Sturt University, The Conversation, (6 February 2019). Australian research found the change from primary into secondary schooling can make students less active and more sedentary, compared to a primary-secondary combined setting. Provides several suggested actions to help increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour for secondary school students. 
  • Feeling fidgety in class? Go stomp, jump or hop down this school's sensory hallway, Karen Pauls, CBC News, (2 January 2019). Students at Roland School can also squat, do pushups or crawl down the main corridor to stay active.
  • How a Nova Scotia running club for kids has encouraged fitness for 15 years, Heather Fegan, The Chronicle Herald, (25 June 2019). Kids Run Club is a free, province-wide, school-based running program offered by Doctors Nova Scotia to address inactivity in children and youth. Designed to be fun and accessible to all, Kids Run Club teaches participants about the importance of healthy living. What began with 3,500 participants and 58 schools in 2004 has now grown to reach more than 17,000 youth. The program has engaged more than 80 per cent of Nova Scotia’s elementary schools.
  • Physical activity in lessons improves students' attainment, media release, University of Sydney, (16 October 2019). Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning, according to a University College London and University of Sydney study.
  • Schools are a crucial place for physical activity programmes – here’s how to make them work, Michaela James and Sinead Brophy, Swansea University, The Conversation, (25 January 2019). As curricula in UK schools undergo a key period of change, now is the best time to rethink how we approach physical activity. And as physical activity has been shown to improve concentration, attention and memory, it is in schools’ best interests that they help children move more and sit less.
  • When kids run for 15 minutes in school every day, here’s what happens to their health, Colin Moran, Naomi Brooks, Ross Chesham, University of Stirling, The Conversation, (11 May 2018). If you haven’t heard of the Daily Mile yet, your time has come. Now taking place in 3,600 primary schools each day in 35 countries around the world, it takes children outside during normal lesson time to run or walk laps of the playground for 15 minutes. The ones who run cover around a mile each day.
  • When this community took on the obesity epidemic, it came up with 400 solutions, Felicity Ogilvie, ABC News, (29 January 2020). Hamilton residents put forward 400 suggestions, ranging from the development of a food co-op, to produce swaps, to taking measures to encourage breastfeeding. One of the programs that has been put into action allows parents to drop their children 800 metres from school so they can walk the distance.
  • Youth Sport Trust pilot: active play is 'crucial' to children preparing for school, Tom Walker, Sports Management, (13 September 2019). A regional active play scheme targeting two to four-year-olds has been credited with providing a "wholly positive impact" on children’s attitude to learning – and their ability to follow instructions.

Report iconReports

  • A Healthier Start for Victorians, VicHealth, (18 July 2019). This consensus statement outlines practical recommendations to the Victorian Government to turn the tide on obesity. The focus is on children and young people to give them the best chance for a healthier start to life. Key actions relating to physical activity include: Engage and support local communities to develop and lead their own healthy eating and physical activity initiatives; Support schools to increase students’ physical activity and physical literacy; and, Develop and implement a strategy to get Victorians walking more. 
  • Addressing the social and commercial determinants of healthy weight: : an Evidence Check rapid review, Friel S and Goldman S., Sax Institute for Queensland Health, (2019). This review examines the social and commercial determinants of healthy eating, physical activity and obesity, and identifies effective and promising interventions focused on the social and commercial determinants of health that could be implemented in Australia to improve healthy weight. Included studies focused on structural factors (income, education, occupation) and on daily living conditions (childhood development, physical environment and social capital). The review finds that leadership and stewardship roles of the health sector are critical to action.
  • Brain Boost: How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning, what the research is telling us, (PDF  - 2.9 MB), Smith J, Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation, (2015). This report is a follow-up to one published in 2010, it updates the latest research supporting the positive link between physical activity (including sport) and cognitive development and academic success. It details findings from Australian and international research published in peer reviewed journals and it provides summaries of intervention and longitudinal research, correlational studies, and research reviews. 
  • Population-level strategies to support healthy weight: an Evidence Check rapid review, Sacks G, Looi E, Cameron A, Backholer K, Strugnell C et al. Sax Institute for Queensland Health, (2019). This review was commissioned to inform the development of the National Obesity Strategy. It identified population-level interventions, programs and policy approaches that are effective in improving healthy eating and physical activity. The review found 31 interventions related to food systems, physical activity, public policy, regulation and legislation. Those targeting community action, personal skill development and social marking were also identified.
    • Evidence brief: How can Australia tackle the obesity epidemic? (PDF  - 852 KB), Sax Institute for Queensland Health, (2019). Examples of the initiatives found to be effective include: increasing the price of unhealthy food and drinks; reducing the exposure of children to the promotion of unhealthy food and drinks; and support school and workplace interventions to reduce prolonged sitting times and enable physical activity. 

Research iconResearch

  • Active Education: Growing evidence on physical activity and academic performance, (PDF  - 1.4 MB), Active Living Research, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, USA, (January 2015). There is a growing body of evidence indicating that physical activity and fitness (including sports participation) can benefit both health and academic performance for children. This report summarises the research and published scientific articles that examine how physical activity and fitness may help school-aged children maximise their academic performance. It also provides an overview of the effects of physical activity on the developing brain. The research indicates that providing opportunities for physical activity is consistent with the overall mission and objectives of schools.
  • The associations between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and academic performance, Maher C, Katzmarzyk P, Dumuid D, Cassidy L and Olds T, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, (23 February 2016). This study investigated cross-sectional relationships between children’s measured physical activity, sedentary behaviour patterns, and academic performance using the standardised, nationally-administered academic assessment (i.e. NAPLAN). Data were collected from 285 children aged 9–11 years from randomly selected schools in South Australia. This study aimed to address the gaps in the current literature, by objectively measuring children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour patterns using accelerometer data. Academic performance was inconsistently related to moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) across the range of academic measures. Writing and numeracy achievement were positively, significantly related to MVPA, as was overall proficiency score. Children categorised as achieving high MVPA (i.e. 45 minutes/day) scored, on average, 10 points more than those having low MVPA (i.e. 19 minutes/day or less). Impacts of MVPA, and in particular aerobic exercise on cerebral blood flow, and neuroplasticity and executive function, may underpin these associations. To our knowledge, this is the first study to consistently identify favourable relationships between total sedentary time and academic performance; sedentary time during weekdays was positively related to academic performance in reading and spelling.
  • The Daily Mile makes primary school children more active, less sedentary and improves their fitness and body composition: a quasi-experimental pilot study, Ross A. Chesham, et,al., BMC Medicine, 16:64, (2018). This study found that in primary school children, the Daily Mile intervention is effective at increasing levels of MVPA, reducing sedentary time, increasing physical fitness and improving body composition. These findings have relevance for teachers, policymakers, public health practitioners, and health researchers.
  • The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: An academic review, Gailey R, Armour K, Kirk D, Jess M, Pickup I and Stanford R, Research Papers in Education, Volume 4(1), (2009). This review critically examines the theoretical and empirical evidence of claims made for the educational benefits of physical education and school sport (PESS). Claims regarding the benefits of PESS are made in four broad domains: (1) physical; (2) social; (3) affective, and; (3) cognitive. Analysis of the evidence is generally supportive in all four domains. However, benefits are mediated by environmental and contextual factors such as the quality of leadership; the involvement of young people in decision‐making; the emphasis on social relationships, and; an explicit focus on learning processes (e.g. pedagogical considerations). In the physical domain there is strong evidence that development of children’s movement skills and physical competence can contribute to greater physical activity, and therefore health and fitness benefits. In the affective and social domains engagement has been positively associated with psychosocial and emotional development, yet the specific mechanisms through which these benefits occur is less clear. Likewise, the mechanisms by which PESS might contribute to cognitive and academic developments are still being explored. There is persuasive evidence to suggest that physical activity can improve children’s concentration and arousal, which benefits academic performance.
  • Highlights from the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Systematic Review, King Abby C, et al., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 51(6), pp.1340–1353 (June 2019). Purpose This article describes effective interventions to promote regular physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior that were identified as part of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report.
  • Maximizing the benefits of youth sport, (PDF  - 383 KB), Journal of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Position Statement, Volume 84(7), (2013). Research shows that positive outcomes of youth sport depend on: (1) the manner in which sports are organised; (2) what occurs in a young person’s relationships with parents, peers, and coaches; (3) the meaning that a young person gives to sport experiences; and (4) the way a young person integrates sport experiences into other spheres of life. Knowledge of those factors is crucial when creating a framework that maximises the benefits of sport participation. Based on research findings across multiple fields, it is the current position of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) that young people who play sports are likely to experience physical, psychological, academic, and social benefits, but those benefits do not occur automatically. Positive benefits are most likely to occur when young people have positive and supportive relationships with teammates, coaches, and parents; develop physical and interpersonal skills, knowledge, and competencies; have opportunities to make decisions about their sport participation, and; have experiences that are consistent with their particular needs and developmental level.
  • Out of school activities during primary school and KS2 attainment (PDF  - 1.1 MB), Chanfreau J, Tanner E, Callanan M, Laing K, Skipp A and Todd L, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, National Centre for Social Research, United Kingdom, Working Paper, (2016). This research investigated whether taking part in out-of-school activities during primary school is linked with end of primary school academic attainment and social, emotional and behavioural outcomes. Specifically, the outcomes for all children were compared to children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The analysis is based on the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) survey data linked to administrative data for the cohort’s Key Stage 1 (KS1) and Key Stage 2 (KS2) academic attainment scores. Data on 11,762 children were collected at five time points, including ages 5, 7 and 11 years. Results showed that for all children sports clubs and ‘other’ (unspecified) after-school participation was positively associated with attainment outcomes at age 11, when controlling for prior attainment. Participating in organised sports or physical activity was also positively linked to social, emotional and behavioural outcomes. Among disadvantaged children, after-school club sport participation emerged as the only organised activity linked to child outcomes; participation was linked to both higher KS2 attainment and pro-social skills. The implications of these findings for further research, policy and practice are discussed. Educational inequalities between children from different backgrounds at the end of primary school are pronounced. A quarter of children in the UK from the most disadvantaged backgrounds achieve below expected levels, compared to just 3 per cent of children from affluent backgrounds. A range of theories have been offered to explain the different pathways that may link out-of-school activities to academic attainment; including academic enrichment (I.e. additional learning opportunities), greater confidence and self-esteem, and positive identification with school. The literature suggests that disadvantaged children have more to gain from out-of-school activities. The current research builds upon the existing evidence by examining a range of out-of-school activities and their potential for helping to reduce the attainment gap; future research must explore the causal relationships.
  • Physical activity and cognition in adolescents: A systematic review, Esteban-Cornejo I, Tejero-Gonzalez C, Sallis J and Veiga O, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, (24 July 2014). This systematic review of literature looked at the association between physical activity and cognition, differentiating between academic performance and cognitive ability. Half of the studies reviewed found a positive association between fitness and academic performance, and 23% found a positive association between fitness and cognitive ability. The results of this review support the positive association that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity has with cognition.
  • Physically Active Lessons Improve Lesson Activity and On-Task Behavior: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial of the “Virtual Traveller” Intervention, Emma Norris,, Health & Education Behavior, Volume 45(6), (2018). Evaluate the effects of the “Virtual Traveller” (VT) intervention delivered using classroom interactive whiteboards on physical activity, on-task behavior, and student engagement. VT pupils engaged in significantly more school-day MVPA at T1 only, with no other significant differences between groups in overall school-day or weekend-day activity. VT pupils engaged in significantly less SB and more MVPA during lesson time than COM pupils. More on-task behavior was shown in VT pupils than COM pupils but there was no difference in student engagement. Conclusion. Physical activity can be integrated into teaching using interactive whiteboards with no detriment to educational outcomes.
  • Physically active lessons in schools and their impact on physical activity, educational, health and cognition outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Emma Norris,, British Journal of Sports Medicine, (16 October 2019). This review provides the first meta-analysis of the impact of physically active lessons on lesson-time and overall physical activity (PA), as well as health, cognition and educational outcomes. 42 studies (39 in preschool or elementary school settings, 27 randomised controlled trials) were eligible to be included in the systematic review and 37 of them were included across the six meta-analyses. Physically active lessons were found to produce large, significant increases in lesson-time PA (d=2.33; 95% CI 1.42 to 3.25: k=16) and small, increases on overall PA (d=0.32; 95% CI 0.18 to 0.46: k=8), large, improvement in lesson-time educational outcomes (d=0.81; 95% CI 0.47 to 1.14: k=7) and a small improvement in overall educational outcomes (d=0.36; 95% CI 0.09 to 0.63: k=25). No effects were seen on cognitive (k=3) or health outcomes (k=3). 25/42 studies had high risk of bias in at least two domains.
  • Physically Active Math and Language Lessons Improve Academic Achievement: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial, Marijke J. Mullender-Wijnsma,, Pediatrics, Volume 137(3), (March 2016). The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of an innovative physically active academic intervention (“Fit & Vaardig op School” [F&V]) on academic achievement of children. After 2 years, multilevel analysis showed that children in the intervention group had significantly greater gains in mathematics speed test (P < .001; effect size [ES] 0.51), general mathematics (P < .001; ES 0.42), and spelling (P < .001; ES 0.45) scores. This equates to 4 months more learning gains in comparison with the control group. No differences were found on the reading test.
  • Results of a feasibility cluster randomised controlled trial of a peer-led school-based intervention to increase the physical activity of adolescent girls (PLAN-A), Simon J. Sebire,, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, (7 June 2018). Most adolescent girls in the UK do not meet government physical activity recommendations and effective interventions are needed. This study reports the results of a feasibility trial of PLAN-A, a novel school-based peer-led physical activity intervention for adolescent girls.

resources iconResources

  • Brain Breaks, The Foundation for Global Community Health. Brain Breaks® is an online platform designed for teachers to support whole school, whole community, whole child (WCWCC) and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Used before school, during school, and after school hours, these 3-5 minute web-based games, videos, and resource links provide focused educational “shorts” to teach, raise awareness, and inspire kids to take action in creating a better world for themselves and others. 

Video iconVideos

  • The best kindergarten you've ever seen, Takaharu Tezuka, TEDxKyoto, (September 2014). At this school in Tokyo, five-year-olds cause traffic jams and windows are for Santa to climb into. Meet: the world's cutest kindergarten, designed by architect Takaharu Tezuka. In this charming talk, he walks us through a design process that really lets kids be kids. One of the highlights is the amount of exercise/distance that children do daily, an average of 4,000m during free play. 
  • ‘Can’t Run, Can’t Throw’ – Findings of NSW children's lack of fundamental movement skillsDr Louise Hardy, Senior Research Fellow, Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Research Group (PANORG), University of Sydney, Smart Talk Seminar Series, Australian Institute of Sport, (27 August 2012).

    Governments and Environment

    Infrastructure and public spaces can play a key role in increasing PA. Accessible green spaces and actively promoting and facilitating safe active transport can have a significant impact on communities.
    Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.


    • How healthful nudges help you get – and stay – active during your workday, ParticipACTION, (2 October 2019). In the workplace, nudges can be used to encourage people to sneak in extra physical activity and limit hours of uninterrupted sitting. They’re a wonderful way to help shift the overall culture of your workplace to one that embraces and supports physical activity, regardless of what your workplace looks like.
    • Why It’s Time We Paid Employees to Exercise at Work, Ryan Holmes,, (21 March 2015). Given how critical fitness is to overall health, I think it’s worth taking a look at exercise in the one place where nearly all of us will spend a good chunk of our lives: the workplace. My observations are anecdotal — pulled from experiences in my own company — but I think the lessons learned can apply more broadly.
    • Work Better, ParticipACTION, (October 2019). Regular activity breaks increase blood flow to your brain, resulting in better focus and attention. What if the secret to being your best at work, while increasing your job satisfaction is as easy as getting moving? Spoiler alert! It is.

    Report iconReports

    • A Healthier Workplace: how employers can reduce physical inactivity (PDF  - 28.8 MB), Nuffield Health White Paper commissioned by Sport England, (2018). Our white paper, commissioned by Sport England,  collates and assesses the latest evidence on the impact of interventions in the workplace to get employees more active. It provides an evaluation of the interventions that UK employers might wish to consider when looking to support their employees in leading healthier, more active working lives. A shorter overview presentation is also available (PDF  - 20.2 MB).
    • Addressing the social and commercial determinants of healthy weight: : an Evidence Check rapid review, Friel S and Goldman S., Sax Institute for Queensland Health, (2019). This review examines the social and commercial determinants of healthy eating, physical activity and obesity, and identifies effective and promising interventions focused on the social and commercial determinants of health that could be implemented in Australia to improve healthy weight. Included studies focused on structural factors (income, education, occupation) and on daily living conditions (childhood development, physical environment and social capital). The review finds that leadership and stewardship roles of the health sector are critical to action.
    • Blueprint for an active Australia (second edition) (PDF  - 12.7 MB), National Heart Foundation of Australia, (2014). Physical inactivity is a major risk factor that contributes to Australia’s growing and significant burden of chronic disease. In recognising the significant challenges of getting more people more active, the Blueprint for an active Australia outlines a holistic approach to physical activity. Example initiatives found in the Blueprint cover: (1) built environments and planning reforms to create places that promote walking and cycling; (2) incorporation of physical activity programs in schools, workplaces and age-care settings; (3) delivery of affordable and accessible evidence-based physical activity programs; (4) increased support for sporting and active recreation clubs. Overcoming the many barriers to physical activity requires a multi-sector response, led by governments and implemented at the community level.
    • The economics of exercise: Measuring the business benefit of being physically fitPJM Economics for AXA PPP healthcare, (September 2019). Highlights the substantial return on investment businesses could stand to make from increasing physical activity levels among employees. According to the study, if all employees met the recommended guidelines of doing 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (just over 20 minutes per day), it could deliver up to £6.6 billion in direct productivity gains to businesses each year.  
    • Increasing Physical Activity and Decreasing Sedentary Behaviour in the Workplace (PDF  - 4.5 MB), Alberta Centre for Active Living, (2015). The purpose of this review was to identify the best workplace interventions to support employees moving more and sitting less. Four interrelated types of intervention were identified, challenges and competitions, information and counselling, organisational culture and norms, and access and the physical environment. A series of four documents, each targeting a type of intervention, were developed to provide more detailed information pertaining to the implications of the findings from the systematic review.
    • Population-level strategies to support healthy weight: an Evidence Check rapid review, Sacks G, Looi E, Cameron A, Backholer K, Strugnell C et al. Sax Institute for Queensland Health, (2019). This review was commissioned to inform the development of the National Obesity Strategy. It identified population-level interventions, programs and policy approaches that are effective in improving healthy eating and physical activity. The review found 31 interventions related to food systems, physical activity, public policy, regulation and legislation. Those targeting community action, personal skill development and social marking were also identified.
      • Evidence brief: How can Australia tackle the obesity epidemic? (PDF  - 852 KB), Sax Institute for Queensland Health, (2019). Examples of the initiatives found to be effective include: increasing the price of unhealthy food and drinks; reducing the exposure of children to the promotion of unhealthy food and drinks; and support school and workplace interventions to reduce prolonged sitting times and enable physical activity. 

    Research iconResearch

    • Do highly physically active workers die early? A systematic review with meta-analysis of data from 193 696 participants, Pieter Coenen,, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 52(20), pp.1320-1326, (2018). 2490 unique articles were screened and 33 (from 26 studies) were included. Data from 17 studies (with 193 696 participants) were used in a meta-analysis, showing that men with high level occupational physical activity had an 18% increased risk of early mortality compared with those engaging in low level occupational physical activity. No such association was observed among women, for whom instead a tendency for an inverse association was found. The authors conclude that he results of this review indicate detrimental health consequences associated with high level occupational physical activity in men, even when adjusting for relevant factors (such as leisure time physical activity). These findings suggest that research and physical activity guidelines may differentiate between occupational and leisure time physical activity.
    • Effects of Physical Exercise Training in the Workplace on Physical Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, Olaf Prieske,, Sports Medicine, Volume 49(2), pp.1903-1921, (December 2019). Overall, 3423 workers aged 30–56 years participated in 17 studies (19 articles) that were eligible for inclusion. Methodological quality of the included studies was moderate with a median PEDro score of 6. Analyses revealed significant, small-sized effects of PET on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), muscular endurance, and muscle power. Medium effects were found for CRF and muscular endurance in younger workers (≤ 45 years) and white-collar workers, respectively. Multivariate random effects meta-regression for CRF revealed that none of the examined training modalities predicted the effects of PET on CRF. Independently computed subgroup analyses showed significant PET effects on CRF when conducted for 9–12 weeks and for 17–20 weeks. The authors conclude that PET effects on physical fitness in healthy workers are moderated by age (CRF) and occupation type (muscular endurance). Further, independently computed subgroup analyses indicated that the training period of the PET programs may play an important role in improving CRF in workers.
    • Exercising at work and self‐reported work performance, J.C. Coulson, J. McKenna, M. Field, International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Volume 1(3), pp.176-197, (2008). The purpose of this paper is to address the interplay of workplace exercising on self‐reported workplace performance. Three workplaces (two private companies, one public service organisation) were purposefully selected for their provision of on‐site exercise facilities, size (>250 employees) and large proportion of sedentary occupations. Among 201 volunteer respondents (67 per cent female, mean age 38.2 years), mood improved on ExD, pre‐to‐post exercise (all p<0.01). Performance indicators were higher on ExD, versus NExD (all p<0.01), independent of exercise specifics and workload. Positive changes in performance outcomes were almost exclusively linked to changes in mood. Inductive analysis of focus groups revealed 13 (of 17) themes exhibiting positive outcomes. Employee tolerance and resilience were central to the subjective findings. 
    • Highlights from the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Systematic Review, King Abby C, et al., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 51(6), pp.1340–1353 (June 2019). Purpose This article describes effective interventions to promote regular physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior that were identified as part of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report.

    resources iconResources

    • Active Workplace Audit Toolkit, Alberta Health Services & Centre for Active Living, (2019). The key purpose of this toolkit is to provide an audit tool for workplace champions, human resource professionals, and health and wellness promoters to identify how to support office-based employees to move more and sit less.
    • CAL's Workplace Physical Activity Policy. Centre of Active Living, (1 October 2016). As an organization dedicated to increasing physical activity, we are committed to creating and maintaining an organizational culture that encourages and supports daily physical activity among employees. If your workplace does not have a physical activity policy, feel free to adapt ours.
    • Physical Activity Strategy Kit, Alberta Health Services, (accessed 13 January 2020). The Physical Activity Toolkit provides practical guidance in promoting physical activity in the workplace. It can be used as part of the Healthier Together Workplace Program to create a comprehensive workplace health strategy or on its own to support workplace health action.

    Video iconVideos

    • Move Your Workforce with UPnGO with ParticipACTION, Participaction/YouTube, (9 May 2018). Video explaining a Canadian program UPnGO which helps deskbound workplaces seamlessly integrate fun, rewarding, and healthy behaviour programming into the workday to help employees be at their best. 

      International practice

      Global Observatory for Physical Activity (GoPA)

      The Global Observatory for Physical Activity (GoPA) was launched in 2014 to provide information related to physical (in)activity as a public health issue. The main resource provided are standardised country cards, based on common indicators and sources. The cards allow cross-country comparisons and provide data for countries to initiate or improve standards, policies, program development, and evaluation.   

      • Indicators include: general country information (i.e. population size, life expectancy, literacy, socioeconomic indicators); physical activity prevalence; estimated physical inactivity health burden and related mortality; national physical activity plan; physical activity surveillance; and research in physical activity.  There were 217 Country Cards available in 2016 with more planned. 
      • Australia was ranked 2nd for physical activity research worldwide, contributing 8.46% to physical activity research worldwide [Australian Country CardGlobal Observatory for Physical Activity, (2013)]. The United States was ranked 1st, contributing 25.31%. The Country card also highlighted that Australia did not currently have a national physical activity plan, although it does have a national survey; that less than 50% of people over the age of 15 years met physical activity guidelines (42% of females and 45% of males); and that Australia was slightly above the world average for 'deaths related to physical inactivity' with 10.1% in Australia, and 9% average worldwide.
      • More information, and other Country Cards, are available from the GoPA website 

      World Health Organisation (WHO) 

      Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030: more active people for a healthier world (PDF  - 1.5 MB), World Health Organisation, (2018). WHO has developed a new global action plan to help countries scale up policy actions to promote physical activity. It responds to the requests by countries for updated guidance, and a framework of effective and feasible policy actions to increase physical activity at all levels. The plan sets out four objectives (create active societies, active environments, active people and active systems) and recommends 20 evidence-based policy actions that are applicable to all countries and address the cultural, environmental and individual determinants of inactivity.

      Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health (PDF  - 1.8 MB), World Health Organisation, (2010). Physical inactivity is now identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. The recommendations set out in this document address three age groups: 5–17 years old; 18–64 years old; and 65 years old and above.

      Health-enhancing physical activity policy audit tool (PDF  - 74 KB), Bull F, Milton K and Kahlmeier S, World Health Organisation, (2011). The promotion of physical activity across the life course requires a multi-faceted response across many sectors. This document provides a protocol and method for a detailed compilation and communication of country level policy responses on physical inactivity. It is structured around a set of 17 key attributes identified as essential for successful implementation of a population-wide approach to the promotion of physical activity across the life course.

      Jakarta Statement on Active Living (1997). The World Health Organisation (WHO) held its 4th International Conference on Health Promotion (Jakarta, Indonesia, July 1997) and considered ten priority health promotion areas. The Conference statement responded to these issues and challenges and contains several statements regarding the need for health promotion programs: (1) scientific evidence shows that daily moderate activity enhances health in its broadest sense; (2) sedentary lifestyles make it increasingly difficult for people to remain physically active; (3) experiences suggest three pathways for successful intervention programs – (i) sound policy that supports action, (ii) program evaluation, and (iii) effective advocacy; (4) a review of effective programs identifies these common themes – (i) the possibility of immediate results, (ii) action that is taken locally, (iii) programs targeting children and youth, (iv) realisation that interventions should be simple, and (v) documentation of results to determine transfer of experiences.

      Let’s be active for health for allWorld Health Organisation/YouTube, (3 June 2018). The Let’s be active campaign is promoting the advice of the WHO Global action plan on physical activity, which was endorsed at the World Health Assembly in 2018.

      WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (PDF  - 1.7 MB), World Health Organisation, (2004). Governments have a central role in creating an environment that empowers and encourages physical activity by individuals and communities. This strategy document was developed through a wide-ranging series of consultations with all concerned stakeholders in response to a request from Member States. 

      Research iconResearch

      • An international perspective on the nexus of physical activity research and policy, Pratt M, Salvo D, Cavill N, Giles-Corti B, McCue P, Reis R, Jauregui A and Foster C, Environment and Behavior, Volume 48(1), (2016). The process of translating research to policy is influenced by a complex interplay of factors. The authors contend that physical activity is the “best buy” in public health; yet widespread application of this evidence occurs infrequently, from an international perspective. Evidence on how to increase physical activity at the community level has mounted steadily over the past decades and many reports and papers conclude with calls for better translation of research into policy and practice. There are good examples of research guiding physical activity policy and practice, but more often public policy that influences physical activity is driven from outside a public health rationale. Policy decisions tend to be made independent of research and often use different data sets. Active living research may not always resonate with policy makers, but this does not suggest that research has no role in guiding public policy. Compounding the research-policy nexus is a lack of international consensus on which interventions are most effective. This report offers case studies from four countries – United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil and Mexico to illustrating the research-policy relationship. The authors conclude that in Australia the translation of research to policy has been facilitated by explicitly brokering the relationship across several sectors (e.g. health, sport/recreation, education, community development, etc.). As a result of this process there are many good examples in Australia of research findings systematically being incorporated into national, state, and local policy.
      • The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time, Bangsbo J, Krustrup P, Duda J,, British Journal of Sports Medicine, (published online 27 June 2016). This evidence-based consensus statement was prepared by 24 researchers from 8 countries, representing a variety of academic disciplines. Physical activity is an overarching term that consists of many structured and unstructured forms within school and out-of-school-time contexts, including organised school sport, physical education, outdoor recreation, motor skill development programs, active play during recess, and active transportation such as biking and walking to/from school. This consensus statement represents accord on the effects of physical activity on children's and youth's fitness, health, cognitive functioning, engagement, motivation, psychological wellbeing and social inclusion. There are 21 items of consensus grouped into four thematic areas that identify educational and physical activity implementation strategies.

      EU Physical Activity Guidelines: recommended policy actions in support of health-enhancing physical activity (PDF  - 213 KB), EU Working Group ‘Sport and Health’, (2008). School-aged youth should participate in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, in forms that are developmentally appropriate, enjoyable, and involve a variety of activities. The full dose can be accumulated in bouts of at least 10 minutes. Development of motor skills should be emphasised in early age groups. Specific types of activity according to the needs of the age group should be addressed: aerobic, strength, weight bearing, balance, flexibility, motor development. For healthy adults aged 18 to 65 years, the goal recommended by the WHO is to achieve a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 days a week or at least 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity 3 days a week. For adults aged over 65, in principle the same goals as for healthy younger adults should be achieved. In addition, strength training and balance exercises to prevent falls are of particular importance in this age group.

      National physical activity recommendations: systematic overview and analysis of the situation in European countries (PDF  - 427 KB), Kahlmeier S, Wijnhoven T, Alpiger P, Schweizer C, Breda J and Martin B, BMC Public Health, (12 February 2015). Developing national physical activity guidelines and recommendations provide a benchmark for the implementation and assessment of programs that promote physical activity (PA). A systematic review was conducted of the national PA recommendations across 37 of the 53 countries within the European Region. Only 40% of the countries have developed recommendations/guidelines for PA, a necessary first step towards comprehensive PA promotional strategies. In addition, only a few countries have addressed the influences of sedentary behaviours in their recommendations.

      Sport and physical activity: Special Eurobarometer 472 report, European Union, (2017). Survey requested by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture and co-ordinated by the Directorate-General for Communication. This report presents the results of the Special Eurobarometer public opinion survey on sport and physical activity in the 28 EU Member States. This follows three previous Eurobarometer surveys on sport and physical activity, conducted in 2002, 2009 and 2013. Main findings include: 

      • Nearly half of Europeans never exercise or play sport, and the proportion has increased gradually in recent years. 
      • Overall, in the EU, men exercise, play sport or engage in other physical activity more than women. This disparity is particularly marked in the 15-24 age group, with young men tending to exercise or play sport on a regular basis considerably more than young women. The amount of regular activity that people do tends to decrease with age. Engagement in sport and physical activity is also less prevalent among people with lower levels of education and among those with financial difficulties. 
      • In a given week, more than half of Europeans do not do any vigorous physical activity, and around half do not engage in moderate physical activity. 
      • 15% of Europeans do not walk for 10 minutes at a time at all in a weekly period, while 12% sit for more than 8.5 hours per day. 
      • Formal sport settings are less popular than informal settings such as parks or outdoors, the home or the journey between home and work or school. 
      • The most common reasons for engaging in sport or physical activity are to improve health (54%) and to improve fitness (47%). Other popular reasons include relaxing (38%), having fun (30%) and improving physical performance (28%).  
      • A lack of time is by far the main reason given for not practising sport more regularly (40%). Other factors mentioned are a lack of motivation or interest (20%) and having a disability or illness (14%). 
      • Most Europeans think that there are opportunities available locally to be physically active, but many do not think their local authority does enough. 
      • Overall, 6% of EU citizens say that they engage in voluntary work that supports sport activities. People who volunteer in sport do a range of different activities, most commonly organising or helping to run a sporting event (33%), followed by coaching or training (27%). 

      Physical Activity Guidelines

      Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers' reportDepartment of Health and Social Care, (7 September 2019). A report from the Chief Medical Officers in the UK on the amount and type of physical activity people should be doing to improve their health. The report contains guidance for health professionals, policymakers and others working to promote physical activity, sport and exercise for health benefits. 

      Active Lives Adult Survey

      Active Lives Adult Survey: May 18/19 Report, Sport England, (October 2019). Covering the 12 months from May 2018 to May 2019, this report provides an update on the sporting and physical activity behaviours of adults in England. It also highlights the contribution made by volunteers, and the impact of taking part in sport and physical activity on wider outcomes such as mental wellbeing and community development. The latest increase of more than 500,000 takes us to 28.6 million regularly active adults, the highest activity levels ever recorded. Conversely, a reduction of 122,000 means that inactivity amongst adults in England is also at the lowest level ever. These results also reveal that previous increases have been retained, the gender gap continues to narrow and there is growth in the activity levels of disabled adults and those with a long term health condition. There is also a positive association between taking part in sport and physical activity and mental wellbeing, as well as individual, social and community development

      Active Lives Adult Survey: understanding behaviour, Sport England, (February 2019). This work delves under the surface of why different people engage with sport and physical activity in different ways, and ultimately why some are more likely to be active than others. The study found that the majority of people say they enjoy sport and physical activity and that it is important to be active but 32% (5.5million people) who were not currently physically active indicated that they don't feel they have the ability to be physically active. This appears to be a significant factor in whether or not people enjoy sport and physical activity, which in turn, is the biggest driver of participation. Based on this research Sport England is in the process of developing a physical activity market segmentation of the adult population of England. 

      Active Lives Children Survey 

      Active Lives: Children & Young People Survey - Academic year 2018/19Sport England, (December 2019). This report presents data from the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey for the academic year 2018/19. Data is presented for children and young people in school Years 1-11 (ages 5-16) in England. The data shows that 46.8% of children and young people (3.3 million) are meeting the new Chief Medical Officer guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more every day. Meanwhile 29.0% (2.1m) do less than an average of 30 minutes a day. The proportion of children and young people reporting they were active has increased by 3.6% over the past 12 months (an increase of 279,600 active children and young people in England). Boys (51%) are more likely to be active than girls (43%), however, both boys and girls have seen an increase in activity levels over the last 12 months. The gap between boys and girls who are active is fairly consistent across school years. Conversely, girls (30%) are more likely to be less active than boys (27%). The report also highlights that there is a positive association between levels of engagement in sport and physical activity and levels of mental wellbeing; individual development; and community development.   

      Active Lives: Children & Young People Survey - Attitudes towards sport and physical activitySport England, (March 2019). This new analysis has identified five key findings that give us further insight into the attitudes of children and young people towards sport and physical activity. The key findings are: Physically literate children do twice as much activity. The more of the five elements of physical literacy - enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge - children have, the more active they are. Enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity levels. Despite the majority of children (68%) understanding that sport and activity is good for them, understanding had the least impact on activity levels. Children who have all five elements of physically literacy report higher levels of happiness, are more trusting of other children, and report higher levels of resilience (continuing to try if you find something difficult). Physical literacy decreases with age. As children grow older, they report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding. Previous research from Sport England shows that activity levels drop when children reach their teenage years. Additionally there are inequalities between certain groups of children: Girls are less likely to say they enjoy or feel confident about doing sport and physical activity. (58% of boys enjoy it, compared to 43% of girls. 47% of boys feel confident, compared to 31% of girls.) Among children aged 5-7, boys are more likely to love playing sport, while girls are more likely to love being active. Children from the least affluent families are less likely to enjoy activity than those from the most affluent families, and previous research shows they are also far less likely to be active. Black children are more physically literate than other ethnic groups – driven by boys, but they're less active than the population as a whole.

      Strategic Plans

      A more active Scotland: Scotland's Physical Activity Delivery Plan (PDF  - 1.1 MB), Scottish Government, (June 2018). The Active Scotland Outcomes Framework sets out the shared vision and goals which have shaped the approach the Scottish Government and a wide range of partner organisations have taken to supporting and enabling people in Scotland to be more physically active. The identified actions and outcomes align with the WHO Global Action Plan.  

      Sport for Life: A vision for sport in Scotland, Sport Scotland, (April 2019). The new corporate strategy launched by sportscotland, outlines our vision, mission and assets and the approach we take.

      Sporting Future: A new strategy for an active nation (PDF  - 1.2 MB), Ministry for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, United Kingdom, (December 2015). At the heart of the Government’s strategy are five simple, but fundamental outcomes of participation in sport and physical activity: (1) physical health; (2) mental health; (3) individual development; (4) social and community development; and (5) economic development. It is these outcome that will define how governments (federal and local) prioritise and fund programs.

      National Child Measurement Programme, England 2018/19 School Year, NHS Digital, (10 October 2019). This report presents findings from the Government's National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for England, 2018-19 school year. It covers children in Reception (aged 4-5 years) and Year 6 (aged 10-11 years) in mainstream state-maintained schools in England. The report contains analyses of Body Mass Index (BMI) classification rates by age, sex and ethnicity as well as geographic analyses. Some key facts include: in Reception obesity prevalence increased to 9.7% in 2018/19 from 9.5% in 2017/18. Year 6 obesity prevalence remained similar. Obecity prevalence was higher for boys than girls in both age groups (10% of boys in reception were obese compared to 9.4% of girls and 22.5% ob boys in year 6 were obese compared to 17.8% of girls). Obesity prevalence for children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas for both age groups. 

      Start Active, Stay Active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries' Chief Medical Officers (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) (PDF  - 1.3 MB), Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement and Protection, (2011). Presents guidelines on the volume, duration, frequency, and type of physical activity required across the life-course to achieve general health benefits. The report is intended for professionals, practitioners, and policymakers concerned with formulating and implementing policies and programs that utilise the promotion of physical activity, sport, exercise, and active travel to achieve health gains.

      Steps to solving inactivity (PDF  - 2.8 MB), UK Active, (2014). Official government data shows that 29 per cent of people in England are classed as physically inactive, failing to achieve 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. This report provides an evidence base on the link between physical inactivity and long-term health issues. It offers practical guidance on how to best prove the benefits of physical activity programs, so that successful programs can be continued and scaled up. A total of 952 physical activity programs receive some level of government funding in the United Kingdom; delivered through schools, workplaces, community groups, outdoor settings, and primary care venues. These programs reach 3.5 mission people annually. Recommendations made in this report include: (1) improve the collection, coordination and analysis of data through a single UK-wide framework; (2) increase investment into research on physical inactivity interventions in a number of settings; (3) establish a UK-wide framework that sets benchmarks across the physical activity sector; (4) encourage local government authorities to prioritise physical inactivity interventions as a public health issue; (5) integrate physical activity programs into planning across public health, social care, education, environmental and transport policies; and (6) encourage all local Health and Wellbeing Boards to have a ‘physical activity champion’ who can coordinate and integrate programs across government portfolios.

      Value of Sport Monitor. Sport England provides a review of evidence regarding the value of sport. Besides commissioning its own research on the value of sport, Sport England also works with other organisations  to collect and review data from across the world.

      Value of SwimmingSwim England, (November 2019). As the national governing body for swimming, water polo, diving and synchronised swimming in England, Swim England commissioned this research to build a robust evidence base around the specific benefits of water-based activity. The findings show how swimming can positively contribute to physical and mental wellbeing, to individual and community development, and help to reduce the burden to the health and social care system. Some of the key benefits suggested by this report include that swimming is already reducing health and social care costs by up to £357million a year. This includes estimated savings from dementia, strokes, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, depression, and reduced GP and psychotherapy visits by those who swim regularly. Additionally, across the different datasets analysed, a positive association was seen between swimming and: social connectedness; trust (in general and of neighbours); community cohesion; volunteering; percieved ability to achieve goals; life satisfaction; and, health and mental health. 

      Physical Activity Guidelines 

      Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd edition), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (2018). This second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides science-based guidance to help people ages 3 years and older improve their health through participation in regular physical activity. It reflects the extensive amount of new knowledge gained since the publication of the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, released in 2008. This edition of the Guidelines discusses the proven benefits of physical activity and outlines the amounts and types of physical activity recommended for different ages and populations.

      2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee: Scientific Report, 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (February 2018). The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted its Scientific Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services in February 2018. The report summarizes the scientific evidence on physical activity and health, and will be used by the government to develop the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This report provides a comprehensive review of the various benefits that can be attributed to physical activity including physical and mental benefits for all ages. The report also highlights that any increase in physical activity is beneficial, even for people who are not currently meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines. 

      Strategic Plans 

      Healthy People 2020, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, (2010). This is an initiative of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People provides a science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Benchmarks and monitored progress over time is provided to: (1) encourage collaborations across communities and sectors; (2) empower individuals to make informed health decisions; and (3) measure the impact of prevention activities. The physical activity objectives for Healthy People 2020 reflect the strong state of the science supporting the health benefits of regular physical activity among youth and adults. Regular physical activity includes participation in moderate and vigorous physical activities and muscle-strengthening activities.

      National Physical Activity Plan 2016 (PDF  - 9.6 MB). The 2016 Plan builds on the first U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, which was released in 2010. It is a collaboration of nine sectors: business and industry; community recreation; fitness and parks; education; faith-based settings; media; public health; sport; and transportation. The Plan is grounded in a socio-ecological model of health behaviour. This model holds that physical activity behaviour is influenced by a broad constellation of factors operating at the personal, family, institutional, community and policy levels. Sustainable behaviour change is most likely when influences at all the levels are aligned to support change. The Plan includes recommendations for actions at the national, state, local and institutional levels, but fundamentally it is a roadmap for change at the community level that facilitates personal behaviour change. 

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