Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Typical Saturday with Mr and Mrs Average

By Tim Olds

How active is the average family on a typical weekend?

It’s 7:20 am on Saturday, and Michael and Jennifer Average are just waking up. Their kids, Jack and Chloe,1 will be asleep for another hour. Mike’s 38. He’s a technician. Jen, 36,2 works part-time in retail.3

How do Mike and Jen spend their Saturday? To find out, we looked at use-of-time profiles for 3567 Australians. We got them to recall their day from midnight to midnight in as much detail as they could.

Mike and Jen are not particularly active. They both spend 9 hours per day on their backsides: 3–3.5 hours in front of the telly or computer, 2 hours just sitting and talking, 90 minutes in the car, an hour eating, and half an hour reading. But they do walk or cycle for about 50 minutes per day, and spend 18 minutes in the gym or playing sport.

In fact, most of the energy Mike and Jen burn up is doing chores. Jen spends over 3 hours per day on indoor chores, about 40 minutes more than Mike. Sound familiar? Jen spends 52 minutes in food preparation, compared with Mike’s 35 minutes. Jen also spends 16 minutes more than Mike on child care (32 vs 16 minutes), 12 minutes more doing the laundry (19 vs 7 minutes), and 12 minutes more shopping (37 vs 25 minutes). Mike, on the other hand, spends more time in the garden, and they both spend about 35 minutes cleaning the house.

When they’re not doing the chores, Mike and Jen spend a lot of time sitting in front of screens. Mike spends 2.5 hours watching telly, while Jen spends about half an hour less, her tolerance for the footy having declined since her teenage infatuation with Mike. Mike also spends about an hour on the computer, 13 minutes more than Jen. Jen spends a lot of her time on Facebook, while Mike catches up on the footy and has a look at ... other things.

When the evening rolls around, Mike and Jen get ready for bed. They shower and get into their pyjamas. Over the day, they spend about 50 minutes showering, dressing and putting on make-up. They finally slip into bed at 11:30 pm, spend 2 minutes having sex and then 9 hours’ sleep before getting up at 8:30 am on Sunday.

It’s not what you’d call an active lifestyle. On average, Mike and Jen are using up energy at a rate equivalent to about 1.6 times what they would use if they just sat still and did nothing all day. That’s not quite as bad as the lowest value ever recorded – 1.1 for a group of British housewives – but it’s nowhere near the 4.5 measured for Tour de France cyclists and for Arctic explorers.4 Mike’s about 5% more active than Jen.

What does this typical day for Mike and Jen tell us about how they might become a bit more active? If they were to spend another hour standing rather than sitting – say during TV ads – they’d increase the energy expenditure by about 1%. If they pottered about rather than just standing, they could increase energy by about 3%. They’d get the same benefit by spending an extra 15 minutes in the gym. It doesn’t sound much but, uncompensated by greater energy intake, a 1% increase in energy expenditure means 1 kg less fat over the course of a year.

Mike and Jen might like to think about this, because they’re not as slim as they used to be. At 176 cm, Mike weighs 86 kg, while Jen is 162 cm tall and weighs 71 kg.2 This puts them both well and truly into the overweight zone.

And what do Mike and Jen look like? To find out, we used 3D whole-body laser scanning to get 3D snapshots of 1500 Australians. We then calculated the average for 46 dimensions, and found the bodies they best matched.

So what do they look like? Well, why don’t you guess from the figure below? I’ll tell you the answer next month.

  1. The most popular baby names in the 1970s and 2006.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. The median age of Australians is 37.3 years.
  3. The most common jobs in Australia.

  5. Saris, W.H., van Erp-Baart, M.A., Brouns, F., Westerterp, K.R. & Ten Hoor, F. (1989). Study on food intake and energy expenditure during extreme sustained exercise: The Tour de France. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19 (Suppl. 1), S26–31.

Professor Tim Olds leads the Health and Use of Time Group at the Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia.