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Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

  WHO > Programmes and projects > Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity & Health
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Physical Activity and Women

Social inequality, poverty and inequitable access to resources, including health care, result in a high burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) among women worldwide. Although women generally tend to live longer with NCDs than men, they are often in poor health.


benefits of physical activity for women

Regular physical activity can improve womens' health and help prevent many of the diseases and conditions that are major causes of death and disability for women around the world. Many women suffer from disease processes that are associated with inadequate participation in physical activity:

  • Cardiovascular diseases account for one-third of deaths among women around the world and half of all deaths in women over 50 years old in developing countries.
  • Diabetes affects more than 70 million women in the world and its prevalence is projected to double by 2025.
  • Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break and is most prevalent in post-menopausal women.
  • Breast cancer is the mostly commonly diagnosed cancer in women.

Physical Activity has also been associated with improved psychological health by reducing levels of stress, anxiety and depression. This is particularly important for women who demonstrate an incidence of depression that is reported to be almost double that of men in both developed and developing countries. It has also been suggested that physical activity can contribute to building self-esteem and confidence and can provide a vehicle for social integration and equality for women in society.


reasons for physical inactivity in women

Despite this, physical inactivity is generally more prevalent among girls and women than their male counterparts. Many factors hinder the participation of women in physical activity and their access to health care:

  • The income of women is often lower than that of men and therefore the costs of access to physical activity facilities may be a barrier.
  • Agreement may be required from senior members of the household who control household resources before a woman can engage in physical activity.
  • Women often have a workload in the home and care-giving roles for other family members which may limit the time available for them to engage in physical activity.
  • Women who have limited mobility may be unable to travel to health centres or physical activity facilities.
  • Cultural expectations may restrict the participation of women in certain forms of physical activity.


appropriate physical activity for women

Although in principle women should be encouraged to increase their participation in physical activity, it is important not to overlook the fact that often in rural and in low income urban areas women may be already physically exhausted by other forms of day-long “occupational” physical activities. Women in these areas may need a better balanced set of support actions such as adequate nutrition, income generation initiatives, advice on physical activities most relevant to their specific conditions and adapted leisure pursuits.


Information about "Move for Health"



related links

Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (DPAS)

Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion (CHP)

Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Cluster (NMH)

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