Less sedentary behaviour and more physical activity could prevent as many as five million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The agency launched its new “Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour” earlier this week, which aimed to “provide evidence-based public health recommendations for children, adolescents, adults and older adults on the amount of physical activity (frequency, intensity and duration) required to offer significant health benefits and mitigate health risks.” Unveiled at a time where great swathes of the population are confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they nonetheless emphasise the manifold benefits of being physically active.
Regular physical activity can prevent and help manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer which cause nearly three quarters of deaths worldwide,” the guidelines state. “Physical activity can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and enhance thinking, learning, and overall well-being.” However, a staggering proportion of the global population are not physically active enough. Citing global estimates, the report states that 27.5 percent of adults and 81 percent of adolescents are insufficiently physically active vis a vis the WHO’s 2010 recommendations on physical activity.
“Almost no improvements [were] seen during the past decade,” the report adds.
“Physical activity of any type, and any duration can improve health and wellbeing, but more is always better,” commented Dr Ruediger Krech, director of health promotion at the WHO. “if you must spend a lot of time sitting still, whether at work or school, you should do more physical activity to counter the harmful effects of sedentary behaviour.”
As with many health issues, sedentary lifestyles and inadequate physical activity levels discriminate. The report find that “there are… notable inequalities: data show that in most countries girls and women are less active than boys and men, and that there are significant differences in levels of physical activity between higher and lower economic groups, and between countries and regions.:
Increasing levels of physical activity and fewer sedentary lifestyles could prevent between four and five million deaths annually. The high rate of sedentary behaviour is also estimated to cost US$54 billion due to direct healthcare and US$14 billion as a consequence of lost productivity.
For children and adolescents, the WHO recommends “an average of sixty minutes per day of moderate tto vigorous-intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week.” This age bracket denotes those aged five to seventeen years.
For adults (aged eighteen to 64 years), “at least 150– 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week, for substantial health benefits” are recommended. In addition, the guidelines recommend “muscle strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.”
India has witnessed a transition in lifestyles in recent decades, with increased rates of sedentary behaviour as well as unhealthy diets. Accompanying this trend are increased rates of conditions such as obesity and a growing prevalence of noncommunicable diseases which have outpaced infectious diseases as India’s leading causes of death. The recommendations issued by the WHO are important for every country – India in particular. These would build on pre-existing efforts by the Indian Government to boost physical activity rates, such as via the Fit India movement. The alternative is billions of dollars and millions of lives needlessly lost.
The full guidelines can be accessed here.