Global Population Not Active Enough, Says WHO

Exercise is an important and fixed aspect of every healthy lifestyle as it helps to prevent a number of diseases. However, a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), that was published in the Lancet Global Health journal, has revealed how the global population isn’t taking an active lifestyle as seriously as they should be.

The study

Researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) collected and analyzed activity levels from 358 population-based surveys on 1.9 million participants from 168 countries during 2016. The activity levels were self-reported and were inclusive of both work and home, be it transport or during leisure time.

In regards to activity levels, WHO recommends that adults perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. They should also attempt to do muscle-strengthening activities that involve major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week. Moderate intensity activities include speed walking, hiking, water aerobics, volleyball, rollerblading or even pushing a lawn mower. Vigorous-intensity, on the other hand, refers to activities such as jogging, running, single tenis, martial arts, aerobics and gymnastics. muscle-strengthening activities include lifting weights, heavy gardening, push-ups and yoga.

According to research, the inability to meet this guidelines can greatly increase your risk from chronic disease such as dementia, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The results

The report revealed that the global rates of inactivity are worsening at an alarming rate. Specifically, more than 1.4 billion people worldwide were found to be inadequately active in 2016, when compared to the 23.3% from 2010.

The countries with the highest percentage of inactivity were Kuwait with 67%, Saudi Arabia with 53% and Iraq trailing not far was behind with 52%. The countries with the least inactivity were the two African countries of Uganda and Mozambique  who each read at 6% respectively.

Also, more women were found to be insufficiently active when compared to men. According to lead lead study author Regina Guthold of WHO, this is likely a result of some cultural beliefs where the women are expected to stay home to manage the household and as a result, they don’t have time to exercise.

In the United States 48% of women were inactive while only 32% of men were, in the UK the numbers sat at 40% and 32% while in South Africa 47% of women were inactive and only 29% of men were the same.

The sedentary lifestyle

“Levels of inactivity are more than twice as high in high income countries as compared to low income countries, with an increasing trend in high income countries,” explained Guthold in an email, “Latin America and the Caribbean, and high-income Western countries are the two regions with the highest levels of inactivity, and with increasing trends in inactivity.”

As a result of urbanization and technological advancements, our lives have become more sedentary with motorized transport, longer office hours and easy access to high-calorie foods.

As countries urbanise, people who used to be, say, farmers, and got a lot of physical activity through their work all of a sudden live in an urban environment where they might be without work or move to a sedentary job, so societies need to compensate,Guthold explained. 

Melody Ding, from the University of Sydney who also worked on the report, shared these sentiments to the Agence France-Presse,

I consider one of the biggest barriers being our environment – physical activity has been engineered out of life, with desk-based jobs replacing labour jobs, lifts replacing stairs, cars replacing active travel.

The verdict on global health

The researchers from the report acknowledge that current strategies to improve physical activity in the world are not working. In fact,  if current trends continue, WHO’S global target of reducing sedentary lifestyle by 10% by 2025 will not be met.

We have seen basically no progress.”Dr Guthold added: “Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

The researchers from the study call on governments to provide practical solutions that go beyond simply telling people to exercise more. They suggest that governments maintain the infrastructures that promote sports and increased walking and cycling for transport.

Co-author Dr Fiona Bull, co-author of the study, also shared the importance of confronting the gender inequalities in regards to the levels of physical activity, Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable.

You can read more about the study here

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Before 1993, the science that led to prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and even medication dosages, was based almost entirely on male physiology, assuming that, apart from reproductive organs, women and men were biologically the same. Click on the link to find out why this has immense impacts on you.