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WHO worried about level of inactivity

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its recent guidelines on physical activity recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity per day for children and adolescents.

This is because regular physical activity such as walking, cycling, or doing sports has significant benefits for health such as reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

According to WHO, “The term ‘physical activity’ should not be confused with ‘exercise’, which is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.”

The organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week for adults.

Benefits of physical activity

At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm and by becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can easily achieve the recommended activity levels. According to the organization, regular and adequate levels of physical activity can:

  • Improve muscular and cardio-respiratory 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.
  • Be fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

Risks of physical inactivity

Physical inactivity, according to WHO, is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality and causes six per cent of all deaths. It is only outstripped by high blood pressure (13 per cent) and tobacco use (nine per cent) and carries the same level of risk as high blood glucose (six per cent). 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 non-communicable diseases and affecting general health worldwide. People who are insufficiently active have a 20 per cent to 30 per cent 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.

WHO says physical inactivity is the main cause for 21–25 per cent of breast and colon cancers; 27 per cent of diabetes; and 30 per cent of ischemic heart disease. WHO studies on physical inactivity reveal that in high-income countries, 41 per cent of men and 48 per cent of women are insufficiently physically active. This is in stark contrast to 18 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women in low-income countries.

“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,” the WHO notes.

Now together with Unesco, WHO is developing a Quality Physical Education (QPE) policy package. The package aims to improve the quality of physical education worldwide and make it available to everyone.


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