Television, technology, and transport have transformed our leisure time, communication and movement. These luxuries have also added to a global crisis of inactivity and chronic illness.
Regular physical activity helps ward off diseases that are now plaguing the planet, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, mental illness and Alzheimer’s disease.
Yet more than one in four adults around the world—1.4 billion people—are not active enough, according to a new study published in the Lancet. And countries that are economically more advanced are also more inactive.
Beyond disease, the World Health Organisation warns that failing to increase physical activity will impact health systems, the environment, economic development, community wellbeing and quality of life.
To address this problem, members of the WHO met in 2009 to develop physical activity guidelines. Yet low activity levels have remained unchanged, according to the Lancet study.
Taking effective action, then, will need to be powerfully tackled at multiple levels, according to the WHO.
“Effective implementation will require bold leadership combined with cross-government and multisectoral partnerships at all levels to achieve a coordinated, whole-of-system response,” they declare.
The WHO’s vision
The WHO has set a goal to bring global physical inactivity levels down by 10% before 2025 and 15% by 2030.
They say policy action on physical activity is intertwined with 13 sustainable development goals, ranging from healthy weight to environmental conservation and reduced fossil fuel consumption, academic achievement and equality to stronger communities and sustainable infrastructure.
Their recommendations include creating active societies by improving social norms and attitudes towards physical activity and creating active environments to enhance opportunities for people to move more.
As well as this, they recommend creating and promoting access to programs and opportunities across multiple settings, so individuals, families and communities can be active regardless of age or surroundings.
In support, active systems will be needed at government and policy levels to promote strong leadership and multisectoral partnerships that help mobilise resources and opportunities for physical activity.
The WHO recommends that all adults should do at least 150 minutes (two and half hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or a combination of both.
This includes people over 65. The importance of mobility in older age cannot be underestimated—even in adults with limited movement or dementia, who might benefit from a personalised activity program.
Physical activity in over-65s can take many shapes and forms.
Leisure time activities could include walking, dancing, bowling, hiking or swimming. Transport needs provide opportunities to be active by walking or cycling to the local shops, for instance. Even household chores and gardening rate as physical activity.
Recommendations say that aerobic activity—to get the heart pumping—should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time.