Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

Physical Activity

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

  • Review of Best Practice in Interventions to Promote Physical Activity in Developing Countries [pdf 1Mb]
    This is a background document prepared for the 'WHO Workshop on Physical Activity and Public Health' that was held in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, on 24–27 October 2005. It aims to assist stakeholders in the development and implementation of a national physical activity plan and provide guidance on policy options for effective promotion of physical activity at the national and sub-national level.
  • Monitoring and evaluating DPAS's implementation
    This framework sets an approach to measure the implementation of DPAS, in coordination with ongoing monitoring and surveillance initiatives, and to assist Member States to identify specific indicators to measure the implementation of DPAS at country level.
  • The 3 Fives campaign for the Olympic Games
    The 3 Fives: Five Keys to Safer Food, Five Keys to a Healthy Diet, Five Keys to Appropriate Physical Activity, primarily provides simple messages on what to consume to stay healthy, how to prepare food safely and how to keep moving to stay in good shape.