Is the amount of physical activity you do impacted by climate change?

  • Silhouette of man and woman excercising against a red sky
Exercise & Sports Science Australia
John Dennehy AEP ESSAM, Director/Exercise Physiologist, Better Movement Clinic

While there is debate over the extent climate change has on physical activity and health, there is agreement across the scientific community that climate change has both a direct and indirect detrimental impact to human health.

The current Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend adults accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, and for extra benefit completing two days of strengthening exercises per week. Half of Australian adults are not sufficiently physically active which contributes to 9 per cent premature mortality worldwide.

Where you live impacts how much physical activity you do.

If you live in a rural and remote area, you are less likely to participate in physical activity compared to those living in a metropolitan city. Research has attributed this gap in physical activity to a lack of access to safe open spaces to be physically active and the distance to travel to and from facilities to participate in physical activity. People living in a metropolitan city are more likely to exercise in parks than people living in a rural area due to lighting and the perception of feeling safe. It has also been shown that if children have to travel 16 minutes or longer to and from school they are less likely to walk to school. In rural areas, the number of children participating in physical activity increases until the age of 15 or 16, and then there is a sudden and sharp decline. The decrease in physical activity levels is even more significant among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Climate impacts on physical activity participation in several ways.

Researchers have reported residents in countries with lower national average temperatures participate in more moderate and vigorous physical activity. They have shown that physical activity is higher in the warmer months, but decreases once the average temperature reaches 20 degrees Celsius. For much of rural and remote Australia this means physical activity is severely impacted by temperature, indicating that further increases to average temperature will result in a further decrease in physical activity levels of Australians.

Drought, fires and other recent disasters pose significant difficulties to the rural sector, particularly the impact on household disposable income. This further affects access to physical activity facilities, sporting club fees and exercise professionals such as Exercise Physiologists, as cost can be prohibitive in times of drought. Rural and remote businesses struggle with farmers having little income to spend in town. Some rural businesses have faced restructuring and resizing to reduce overheads to maintain their doors open. Drought and harsh climate continues to affect local rural economies.

The need to improve access to infrastructure and trained exercise professionals is necessary and critical to ensure Australia increases its physical activity, particularly as climate continues to detrimentally impact how and where we are physically active.

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