While New Zealand is often seen as a sports-loving country, it seems that we are not an active country.
“We have this illusion that we are a sporting nation, so an active nation, the truth is we are not, we are a sport watching nation,” said Richard Beddie, CEO of Exercise New Zealand.
The reality is that we struggle to meet global guidelines for recommended physical activity. It’s an exercise that can be as gentle as any movement during which you can still hold a breathless conversation.
“New Zealand is actually one of the worst,” Beddie said.
Forty-eight percent of Kiwi adults do not meet global activity goals. But it’s much worse for our children and teenagers – 93% of them are not active enough.
The global average is 21% for adults and 81% for children and adolescents.
Of the 38 OECD countries, only Portugal, Colombia and Costa Rica are ranked after New Zealand.
“One in four adults are not active enough and in New Zealand it’s almost half of the population who are not active enough,” said Dr Fiona Bull, chief physical officer of the World Organization health (WHO).
The WHO guidelines are one hour a day for children and 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week or about 20 minutes a day for everyone else.
“All moves matter,” Dr. Bull said.
Sport NZ said New Zealand’s inactivity had actually worsened over the past two years.
“Without a doubt, during COVID it has been a real challenge. People have gotten out of their way, especially the young rangatahi,” said Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle.
“The reality is that after COVID, we saw a 16% drop in business.”
And it’s well documented how bad inactivity is for our health.
“If exercise was a pill, it would be the most prescribed pill in the world. Basically, it saves so many people,” Beddie said.
Each country has a physical activity dashboard, which shows the percentage of deaths that inactivity is responsible for. In New Zealand, it’s 10.6%, while the global average is 9%.
And this huge cost to our health also has a huge economic cost.
Inactivity costs the healthcare system $530 million a year, of which $440 million is recovered by the public healthcare system.
At the same time, lost productivity due to lower efficiency and sick days, caused by lack of activity, is valued at $2.3 billion.
The WHO said the government should consider working with the fitness industry to improve activity levels.
“We know this is important and my colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing innovations in the next two years,” said Health Minister Andrew Little.
The Deloitte report calculates that if the government made a one-time investment of $2,500 per inactive person to get them active, it would be recouped in less than 12 months. And it’s projected that over 30 years, that $2,500 investment would actually benefit the government by $12,500 per person in health care savings.
But in the meantime, individuals can get the ball rolling, so we can stop being the best sports watchers in the world and start creating more world batsmen.