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SPARC Facts 1997-2001

Part 1: How active are we?/how active do we want to be?

There is clear scientific evidence that being active on most days of the week benefits health. Active people not only feel better but also reduce their risk of dying prematurely and developing diseases such as heart disease and cancer. New Zealand physical activity guidelines Movement=Health: Guidelines for Promoting Physical Activity (Hillary Commission, 2001) [Available from SPARC] remind us that all it takes is 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity physical activity on most days (at least five) of the week to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

People are broadly categorised as active or inactive. Within this broad categorisation there are further subcategories of the extent of activity or inactivity (i.e. inactive: sedentary, relatively inactive; active: relatively active, highly active).

Regularly active

While there are health benefits from doing a total of at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week it is considered that there are further health benefits from being physically active on most days of the week (i.e. regularly active) as recommended in the physical activity guidelines Movement=Health. Therefore, if a person does 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days of the week they are also considered as regularly active. This categorisation is the basis for the Couch Potato Index (CPI) (see page 13).


The New Zealand Sport and Physical Activity survey refers to four categories of activity/inactivity. These four categories are shown in the table below.


Active/inactive Category Description
Physically inactive Sedentary No sports/leisure-time physical activities in the 4 weeks before the interview (2 weeks for young people)
Relatively inactive Took part in some leisure-time physical activity in the 4 weeks before the interview (but not necessarily the last 7 days), and all those that took part in less than 2.5 hours in the 7 days before the interview
Physically active Relatively active Took part in at least 2.5 hours, but less than 5 hours of sport/leisure-time physical activity in the 7 days before the interview
Highly active Took part in 5 hours or more of sport/leisure-time physical activity in the 7 days before the interview

Overall how active/inactive are we

In New Zealand, 68% or 1,851,000 adults and 68% or 505,000 young people over the age of five are active in their leisure time and around a third are inactive, that is they either do no activity or less than 2.5 hours per week of physical activity and this lack of activity poses a serious health risk.

In total, 233,000 young people and 878,000 adults are considered inactive. The following charts show how active and inactive young people and adults are in their leisure time. More girls (36%) are inactive than boys (27%), and more women (34%) are inactive than men (31%).

Levels of physical activity - New Zealand young people

Levels of physical activity - New Zealand adults

While one-in-five young people and adults (22%) take part in some sport and physical activity, they are insufficiently active, as they are physically active for fewer than 2.5 hours a week. Around one-in-10 people aged five and over can be considered sedentary (9% for young people and 10% for adults).

At the other end of the spectrum, over four out of 10 young people (44%) and just over a half of adults (52%) are highly active, spending five or more hours a week on sport and physical activity. Boys (51%) are much more likely than girls (37%) to be highly active, as are men when compared to women (55% and 49% respectively).

The results also show that young people are more likely to be active if their parents are active. 70% of young people who have relatively active parents are active, and the figure rises up to 75% for those whose parents are highly active.

The reverse is also true. Young people are more likely to be inactive if their parents are inactive. While 32% of all young people are inactive, the figure is 40% for those whose parents are relatively inactive and increases up to 43% for those with sedentary parents. Clearly, parents are important activity role models for their children.

Note: Some totals do not add up to 100% due to rounding.