5 Sep 2018

Global health warning over lack of exercise

8:02 pm on 5 September 2018

Very little progress has been made in reducing levels of inactivity worldwide, experts have warned.

Female runner. Fitness exercise. file photo.

A report estimates that more than a quarter of people worldwide are not doing enough physical exercise. Photo: 123rf

A World Health Organization (WHO) report estimates that more than a quarter of people worldwide - 1.4 billion - are not doing enough physical exercise, a figure that has barely improved since 2001.

Inactivity raises the risk of a raft of health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

High-income countries, including the UK, were among the least active.

Women were found to be more sedentary throughout the world, with the exception of two regions of Asia.

Researchers from the WHO looked at self-reported data on activity from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries, including 1.9 million people, for their study in The Lancet Public Health.

They found in high-income countries, which include the UK and the USA, the proportion of inactive people had risen from 32 percent in 2001 to 37 percent in 2016, while in low-income countries it had remained stable at 16 percent.

Those who were classed as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise - or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity - a week.

Countries driving the upwards trend included Germany, New Zealand and the US.

Women were less active than men in all but East and South-East Asia, with the biggest differences being in South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, north Africa and high-income Western countries.

The authors said this was likely to have been caused by a combination of factors, including extra childcare duties and cultural attitudes that made it harder for them to exercise.

In the UK, inactivity levels in 2016 were 36 percent overall - 32 percent of men and 40 percent of women.

Experts said the transition in wealthier countries towards more sedentary jobs and hobbies, along with increased use of motor transport, might explain their higher levels of inactivity.

In lower-income countries people are more likely to be active in their jobs and walk or use public transport.

The report's authors warned that as things stood the WHO's 2025 target of reducing global inactivity by 10 percent would be missed.

"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," Dr Regina Guthold, lead author of the study, said.

"Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases."

Co-author Dr Fiona Bull, also from the WHO, said adressing the differences in physical activity levels between men and women was vital to help reach global activity targets.

Exercise guidelines for 19 to 64-year-olds: How much?

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
  • break up long periods of sitting with light activity

The countries with the highest rates of inactivity were:

  • Kuwait 67 percent
  • American Samoa 53 percent
  • Saudi Arabia 53 percent
  • Iraq 52 percent

The countries with the least inactivity were:

  • Uganda and Mozambique 6 percent

Experts called on governments to provide and maintain infrastructure that promoted sports and increased walking and cycling for transport.

Dr Melody Ding, from the University of Sydney, who was not involved in the study, said that while economic development led to lifestyle changes that increased sedentary behaviour, governments could do more to help people be more active.

She said they could do that, for example, by improving public transport and making it easier to walk and cycle.

Public Health England national lead for physical activity Mike Brannan said: "These figures highlight the global issue of inactivity and the UK is no exception.

"We need action to reverse decades of decline in the nations level of physical activity.

"With our partners, we're working to get the nation moving more through supporting social and physical environments that foster healthier, active lifestyles and through our physical activity work."


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