Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. Physical inactivity (lack of physical activity) has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6% of deaths globally). Moreover, physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischaemic heart disease burden.
Regular and adequate levels of physical activity in adults:
- reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and the risk of falls;
- improve bone and functional health; and
- are a key determinant of energy expenditure, and thus fundamental to energy balance and weight control.
The term "physical activity" should not be mistaken with "exercise". Exercise, is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective. Physical activity includes exercise as well as other activities which involve bodily movement and are done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities.
Increasing physical activity is a societal, not just an individual problem. Therefore it demands a population-based, multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary, and culturally relevant approach.
More information on physical activity
Population-based approaches to increasing levels of physical activity [pdf 598kb]
- Spanish version [pdf 3Mb]
Review of Best Practice in Interventions to Promote Physical Activity in Developing Countries [pdf 1Mb]
School Policy Framework: Implementation of the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
- Information sheet: Global recommendations on physical activity for health [pdf 182kb]
- Information sheet: global recommendations on physical activity for health 5 - 17 years old
- Information sheet: global recommendations on physical activity for health 18 - 64 years old
- Information sheet: global recommendations on physical activity for health 65 years and above