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5 Findings About Physical Activity and Health Worldwide

Laura Joszt
There has been little progress in improving levels of physical activity worldwide, according to new research from the World Health Organization. Here are 5 findings about physical activity and health, worldwide.
There has been little progress in improving levels of physical activity worldwide, according to new research from the World Health Organization (WHO) published in The Lancet Global Health. Recommended levels of physical activity are at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.

Here are 5 findings about physical activity from the WHO.

1. Levels of inactivity

More than one-fourth of the world’s adult population were insufficiently active in 2016. The data found 1.4 billion adults did not meet recommended levels of activity to stay healthy, and that there had been no improvement in global levels since 2001. According to the report, if the trends continue, the world will not meet the WHO 2025 global activity target of reducing insufficient physical activity levels by 10%.

More than half of all adults in 4 countries were insufficiently active: Kuwait (67%), American Samoa (53%), Saudi Arabia (53%), and Iraq (52%).

2. Greater health risks

Insufficient physical activity is linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers. Past research in JAMA Internal Medicine has shown that physical activity reduced the risk of 13 types of cancer by 20% or more, and the risk of total cancer by 7%. Elderly individuals who complete any physical activity also had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study in The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

3. Gender disparities

Women were less active than men. One-third (32%) of women and 23% of men did not reach the recommended levels of physical activity. The only global exceptions were east and southeast Asia.

Some of the countries with the largest differences in insufficient activity between women and men were Bangladesh (40% vs 16%), Eritrea (31% vs 14%), India (44% vs 25%), Iraq (65% vs 40%), Philippines (49% vs 30%), South Africa (47% vs 29%), Turkey (39% vs 22%), the United States (48% vs 32%), and the United Kingdom (40% vs 32%).

4. Income disparities

High-income Western countries had the highest increase in insufficient activity, and there has been a 5% increase in the prevalence of insufficient activity in all high-income countries. The researchers attributed the increase in sedentary occupations and motorized transportation to the higher levels of inactivity in wealthier countries.

Overall, 16% of the population in low-income countries had insufficient levels of physical activity compared with 37% in high-income countries.

5. Recommended policy

The research also assessed the effectiveness of policy to address levels of insufficient activity and identified 20 policy areas that would create more active societies. These policies would increase programs and opportunities for people to do more walking, cycling, sports, active recreation, dance, and play.

“Collaboration across sectors could generate significant returns, because policies that support increasing physical activity can provide other benefits to health, local economies, community wellbeing, and environmental sustainability…” the authors concluded.

Reference

Guthold R, Stevens GA, Riley LM, Bull FC. Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys with 1·9 million participants. [published online September 4, 2018]. Lancet Glob Health. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(18)30357-7.

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