More Australians are turning to exercise to maintain their mental health, but a growing number are giving up on it entirely.

A record number of Australians may be dropping exercise from their life priority list, but many seem to see its broader benefits, according to AusPlay’s annual 20,000-person survey of the country’s exercise habits.

Nearly one in three Australian adults are now motivated to exercise to maintain their mental health.

At 31 percent, that number nearly doubled in five years, enjoying steady growth during the pandemic and its attendant restrictions.

However, while the survey also showed children returning to weekly out-of-school exercise – 47 per cent compared to 42 the year before – it also showed that activity was no longer important for some Australians.

The proportion of Australians who were not active – and who reported exercise as a priority – increased significantly, from 7 per cent in 2020-21 to 11 per cent in 2021-22.

This is the highest level recorded since AusPlay began collecting data in October 2015.

The proportion is even higher for Australians aged 18 or over who speak a language other than English at home, at 13 per cent.

The Federal Minister for Sport, Annika Wells, said the survey was useful for understanding how the government and individual sport approach the management of the sector.

“Australians are seeing the benefits of being active on their physical and mental health, and we need to continue to address the barriers to being active,” Ms Wells said.

A woman wearing a blue blouse with a jacket.
Sports Minister Annika Wells said AusPlay is helping the government understand barriers to exercise.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Keeping Australians engaged in exercise helps people individually as well as society as a whole, said University of Victoria sports participation professor Rochelle Im.

“If you really have poor health and a lot of chronic diseases and [are] “I was morbidly obese, it’s very difficult to be active, especially through sports activities,” Professor Emh said.

“That’s the problem. We are increasing rates of obesity and chronic diseases that are costly to health and the burden is heavy.”

Individual pursuits on the rise

The most common activities for boys are swimming and soccer (including base soccer and Australian), while swimming, dancing and gymnastics are the most common for girls.

Among men, bush walking is still very popular, coming in as the third most popular non-sports activity after walking and going to the gym or doing personal fitness.

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