Global physical inactivity on the rise, WHO warns

Adults at risk of disease from not doing enough physical activity, study finds

APP June 26, 2024
Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends an ACANU briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, December 15, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS


New data show that nearly one-third (31%) of adults worldwide, approximately 1.8 billion people, did not meet the recommended levels of physical activity in 2022.

The findings point to a worrying trend of physical inactivity among adults, which has increased by about five percentage points between 2010 and 2022.

If the trend continues, levels of inactivity are projected to further rise to 35% by 2030, and the world is currently off track from meeting the global target to reduce physical inactivity by 2030.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults have 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or equivalent, per week.

Physical inactivity puts adults at greater risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, type 2 diabetes, dementia and cancers such as breast and colon. The study was undertaken by researchers from WHO together with academic colleagues and published in The Lancet Global Health journal.

“These new findings highlight a lost opportunity to reduce cancer and heart disease and improve mental well-being through increased physical activity,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We must renew our commitments to increasing levels of physical activity and prioritise bold action, including strengthened policies and increased funding, to reverse this worrying trend.”

The highest rates of physical inactivity were observed in the high-income Asia Pacific region (48%) and South Asia (45%), with levels of inactivity in other regions ranging from 28% in high-income Western countries to 14% in Oceania.

Of concern, disparities remain between gender and age. Physical inactivity is still more common among women globally compared with men, with inactivity rates of 34% compared to 29%.

In some countries, this difference is as much as 20 percentage points. Additionally, people over 60 are less active than other adults, underscoring the importance of promoting physical activity for older adults.

“Physical inactivity is a silent threat to global health, contributing significantly to the burden of chronic diseases,” said Dr Rüdiger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO. “We need to find innovative ways to motivate people to be more active, considering factors like age, environment, and cultural background. By making physical activity accessible, affordable, and enjoyable for all, we can significantly reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases and create a population that is healthier and more productive.”

Despite the worrying results, there are some signs of improvement in some countries.

The study showed that almost half of the world’s countries have made some improvements over the past decade, and 22 countries were identified to be on track to reach the global target of reducing inactivity by 15% by 2030 if their trend continues at the same pace.


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