Inactivity puts health of billions at risk

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Photo: Jogging along the Thames. Alan Light/

Around one-in-three women and one-in-four men worldwide are physically inactive, putting their physical and mental health at risk, says WHO, the United Nations health agency, in a study published in The Lancet Global Health journal on Wednesday.

This means that they did not reach the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. In Western Europe Finland stands out and both Finnish men and women do a lot of physical activities, just like in neighbouring Russia. Germans are, however,  among Europe´s laziest according to the report with between 40 and 50% inactive, while 36% were inactive in the United Kingdom

Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, negatively impacting mental health and overall quality of life.

“Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health,” warns the study’s lead author, Regina Guthold, of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Switzerland.

Findings reveal that there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001 and that some one-in-three women and one-in-four men globally are not active enough to stay healthy.

Moreover, levels of insufficient physical activity are more than twice as great in high-income countries as compared to that of low-income nations, with a five per cent increase in higher income countries between 2001 and 2016.

There has been little progress in improving physical activity levels during that 15-year period, with data projecting that if these trends continue, the 2025 global activity target of a 10 per cent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity, will not be met.

Other main findings showed that by the end of 2016:

  • In 55 of 168 countries, more than one-third of the population was insufficiently physically active.
  • More than half of all adults in Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq were insufficiently active, while inadequate levels elsewhere of 40 per cent appeared in the United States, 36 per cent in the United Kingdom and 14 per cent in China.
  • Only six per cent of adults in Uganda and Mozambique were insufficiently active – the lowest levels of all countries.

WHO/Lancet paper: