WHO article on Physical Activity
Benefits of physical activity: WHO Study
Regular physical activity of moderate intensity – such as walking, cycling, or doing sports – has significant benefits for health. At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example through accidents. Some physical activity is better than doing none. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels.
Regular and adequate levels of physical activity:
- improve muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness;
- improve bone and functional health;
- reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer and depression;
- reduce the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures; and
- are fundamental to energy balance and weight control.
Risks of physical inactivity
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality and causes 6% of all deaths. It is only outstripped by high blood pressure (13%) and tobacco use (9%) and carries the same level of risk as high blood glucose (6%). Approximately 3.2 million people die each year because they are not active enough.
Physical inactivity is on the rise in many countries, adding to the burden of noncommunicable diseases and affecting general health worldwide. People who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week.
Physical inactivity is the main cause for approximately:
- 21–25% of breast and colon cancers
- 27% of diabetes
- 30% of ischaemic heart disease.
Reasons for physical inactivity
The levels of physical inactivity increased across the globe. Globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were not active enough in 2008 (men 28% and women 34%). In high-income countries, 41% of men and 48% of women were insufficiently physically active, as compared to 18% of men and 21% of women in low-income countries. Low or decreasing physical activity levels often correspond with a high or rising gross national product. The drop in physical activity is partly due to inaction during leisure time and sedentary behaviour on the job and at home. Likewise, an increase in the use of “passive” modes of transportation also contributes to physical inactivity.
Several environmental factors which are linked to urbanization can discourage people from becoming more active, such as:
- fear of violence and crime in outdoor areas
- high-density traffic
- low air quality, pollution
- lack of parks, sidewalks and sports/recreation facilities.
How to increase physical activity?
Both, society in general and individuals can take action to increase physical activity. In 2013, WHO Member States agreed to reduce physical inactivity by 10% in the framework of the “Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020”.
Policies and plans to address physical inactivity have been developed in about 80% of WHO Member States, though these are operational in only 56% of the countries. National and local authorities are also adopting policies in a range of sectors to promote and facilitate physical activity.
Policies to increase physical activity aim to ensure that:
- walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation are accessible and safe for all;
- labour and workplace policies encourage physical activity;
- schools have safe spaces and facilities for students to spend their free time actively;
- Quality Physical Education (QPE) supports children to develop behaviour patterns that will keep them physically active throughout their lives; and
- sports and recreation facilities provide opportunities for everyone to do sports.
The “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health”, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2004, describes the actions needed to increase physical activity worldwide. The Strategy urges stakeholders to take action at global, regional and local levels to increase physical activity.