We analysed a sample of Australian adults to determine the strength of associations of TV viewing and participation in physical activity with the metabolic syndrome.This population-based cross-sectional study included 6,241 adults aged > or =35 years who were free from diagnosed diabetes mellitus and self-reported ischaemic disease and were not taking lipid-lowering or antihypertensive drugs. The metabolic syndrome was defined according to the 1999 World Health Organization criteria. Participants self-reported TV viewing time and physical activity time for the previous week.The adjusted odds ratio of having the metabolic syndrome was 2.07 (95% CI 1.49-2.88) in women and 1.48 (95% CI 0.95-2.31) in men who watched TV for >14 h per week compared with those who watched < or =7.0 h per week. Compared with those who were less active (<2.5 h per week), the odds ratio for the metabolic syndrome was 0.72 (95% CI 0.58-0.90) in men and 0.53 (95% CI 0.38-0.74) in women who were active (> or =2.5 h per week). Longer TV viewing (>14 h per week) was associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance, obesity and dyslipidaemia in both men and women. A total physical activity time of > or =2.5 h per week was associated with a reduced prevalence of both insulin resistance and dyslipidaemia in both sexes and reduced prevalence of both obesity and hypertension in women.Increased TV viewing time was associated with an increased prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, while physical activity was associated with a reduced prevalence. Population strategies addressing the metabolic syndrome should focus on reducing sedentary behaviours such as TV viewing, as well as increasing physical activity.