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Fysical activity

Key facts

  • Regular physical activity provides significant benefits for physical and mental health.
  • In adults, physical activity contributes to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves brain health and can improve overall well-being.
  • In children and adolescents, physical activity promotes bone health, promotes healthy muscle growth and development, and improves motor and cognitive development.
  • 31% of adults and 80% of adolescents do not meet recommended levels of physical activity.
  • The global goal to reduce levels of physical inactivity in adults and adolescents is a relative reduction of 10% by 2025 and 15% by 2030 compared to the 2010 baseline.
  • The global estimate of the cost of physical inactivity to public health care between 2020 and 2030 is approximately US$300 billion (approximately US$27 billion per year) if physical inactivity levels are not reduced.

Overview

The WHO defines physical activity as any body movement produced by skeletal muscle that requires energy expenditure. Physical activity refers to any movement, including during leisure time, for transportation to get to and from places, or as part of one’s work or household activities. Both moderate and intensive physical activity improves health. Popular ways to be active include walking, cycling, cycling, sports, active recreation and play, and can be done at all levels and enjoyed by all.

Physical activity is beneficial to health and well-being, and conversely, physical inactivity increases the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and other poor health outcomes. Together, physical inactivity and sedentary behavior contribute to the increase in NCDs and put a strain on healthcare systems.

Improving physical activity levels will benefit health and well-being and contribute to achieving the global NCD targets and some of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, this will require greater commitment and investment from Member States; innovation and contributions from non-state actors; cross-sectoral coordination and cooperation; and continued guidance and monitoring from WHO.

Benefits of physical activity and risks of sedentary behavior and inactivity

Physical inactivity is one of the most important risk factors for mortality from non-communicable diseases. People who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active. Regular physical activity is associated with:

  • in children and adolescentsimproved physical fitness, cardiometabolic health, bone health, cognitive outcomes, mental health and reduced body fat;
  • in adults and older adultsreduced the risk of all-cause mortality, the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, incident hypertension, incident site-specific cancers, incident type 2 diabetes, and falls and improved mental health, cognitive health, sleep, and body fat measurements; And
  • for pregnant and postpartum women, reduced risk of preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, excessive gestational weight gain, delivery complications, postpartum depression, and newborn complications. Physical activity has no adverse effects on birth weight or an increased risk of stillbirth.

Sedentary behavior is any period of low energy expenditure while awake, such as sitting, lying down or lying down. Lives are becoming increasingly sedentary due to the use of motorized transport and the increasing use of screens for work, education and recreation. Evidence suggests that greater levels of sedentary behavior are associated with the following poor health outcomes:

  • in children and adolescents, increased adipose tissue, poorer cardiometabolic health, fitness and behavioral/pro-social behavior, and shorter sleep duration; And
  • in adults, increased mortality from all causes, mortality from cardiovascular disease and mortality from cancer and the incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

How much physical activity is recommended?

The WHO Global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior provide recommendations for children (from 5 years), adolescents, adults, older adults, pregnant and postpartum women, and people with chronic conditions and disabilities. The recommendations specify the amount of physical activity (frequency, intensity and duration) needed to provide significant health benefits and reduce health risks. The guidelines emphasize that any amount of physical activity is better than none; all physical activity counts; all age groups should limit the amount of time they are sedentary; and muscle strengthening benefits everyone.

The WHO guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age provide recommendations on the amount of time in a 24-hour day that young children under 5 years of age should spend being physically active or sleeping for their lifelong health and well-being, and the maximum recommended time these children should spend on sedentary screen-based activities or restricted time.

An infographic summarizes current WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior for all age groups. The WHO develops guidelines through a laborious process of assessing scientific evidence and consulting experts. Preparations are already underway for the next guidelines, which are expected to be released in 2030.

Levels of physical inactivity worldwide

The WHO regularly monitors trends in physical inactivity. A recent study (1) found that almost a third (31%) of the global adult population, 1.8 billion adults, are physically inactive, meaning they do not meet the global recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This is an increase of 5 percentage points between 2010 and 2022. If this trend continues, the proportion of adults not meeting recommended levels of physical activity is expected to increase to 35% by 2030.

There are notable age and gender differences in the level of physical inactivity worldwide.

  • Women are on average 5 percentage points less active than men. This has not changed since 2000.
  • After the age of 60, physical inactivity increases in both men and women.
  • 81% of adolescents (11-17 years old) were physically inactive (2).
  • Adolescent girls were less active than adolescent boys, with 85% versus 78% not meeting WHO guidelines.

Many different factors can determine how active people are and the overall level of physical activity in different populations. These factors may relate to the individual or broader social, cultural, environmental and economic determinants that influence access and opportunities to be active in a safe and enjoyable way.

How Member States can increase physical activity levels

The WHO Global Action Plan on Physical Activity provides policy recommendations for countries and communities to promote physical activity and ensure that everyone has more opportunities to be regularly active. Examples of these recommendations include policies that ensure access to walking, biking, and non-motorized transportation; that increase opportunities for physical activity in schools, workplaces, childcare centers and healthcare settings; and that increase the accessibility and availability of community sports and public open spaces.

Implementing effective policies to increase physical activity levels requires a collective effort, coordinated between multiple government departments at all levels, including health, transportation, education, employment, sport and recreation, and urban planning. It also requires national and local involvement of non-governmental organizations, different sectors, stakeholders and disciplines to support the implementation of policies and solutions that suit a country’s cultural and social environment. Priority should be given to policies that address disparities in physical activity levels and promote, enable and encourage physical activity for all.

WHO response

WHO supports countries and stakeholders in implementing the recommended actions by:

  1. developing global policy guidelines and guidelines, informed by the latest data and consensus;
  2. supporting countries in developing appropriate policies that promote physical activity and multisectoral cooperation;
  3. conducting advocacy work to raise awareness of the many benefits of increasing physical activity and supporting the development of economic analyses of the impact of increasing physical activity and the return on investment of different policy interventions;
  4. developing technical tools and training packages to help countries build capacity in implementing policies and programs in key environments and innovations, using digital platforms, including through WHO Academy courses, multi-country workshops and other knowledge-sharing activities;
  5. convene, coordinate and collaborate to strengthen partnerships across sectors and between policy makers, practitioners and research communities; And
  6. carrying out global monitoring and reporting of progress in implementing the Global Physical Activity Action Plan, global levels of physical inactivity and progress towards a 15% relative reduction in the prevalence of physical inactivity by 2030.

WHO supports countries and stakeholders in implementing the recommended actions by developing global policy guidelines and guidance, supported by the latest evidence and consensus, to help countries develop appropriate policies, investment scenarios and financing mechanisms.

References

  1. Stam, T., Flaxman, S., et al. National, regional and global trends in insufficient physical activity among adults from 2000 to 2022: a pooled analysis of 507 population surveys with 5.7 million participants. The Lancet Global Health (2024).
  2. Guthold, R., Stevens, G., et al. Global trends in insufficient physical activity among adolescents: a pooled analysis of 298 population surveys with 1.6 million participants. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Vol. 4 Iss. 1 (2019).