10 facts on physical activity
Reviewed February 2017
A lack of physical activity is a significant risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Less and less physical activity is occurring in many countries. Globally, 23% of adults and 81% school-going adolescents are not active enough.
Getting people to move more is a key strategy for reducing the burden of NCDs, as articulated in WHO's Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020. The plan calls for a 10% reduction in physical inactivity by 2025, which contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
WHO provides recommendations for the minimum amounts of activity for all age groups for improved health, but it is important to know that doing some physical activity is better than doing none. Inactive people should start with small amounts of physical activity, as part of their daily routine, and gradually increase duration, frequency, and intensity over time. Countries and communities must also take action to provide individuals with more opportunities to be active.
Fact 1: Physical activity reduces the risk of diseasePhysical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, various types of cancer including colon cancer and breast cancer, as well as depression. Physical activity is also fundamental to energy balance and weight control. Globally, about 23% of adults and 81% of school-going adolescents are not active enough. Generally, women and girls are less active than men and boys, and older adults are less active than younger adults.
Fact 2: Regular physical activity helps to maintain a healthy bodyPeople who are physically active:
* improve their muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness;
* improve their bone and functional health;
* have lower rates of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancer (including colon and breast cancer), and depression;
* have a lower risk of falling and of hip or vertebral fractures; and
* are more likely to maintain their weight.
Fact 3: Physical activity is not the same as sportPhysical activity is any bodily movement produced by the skeletal muscles that uses energy. This includes sports, exercise, and other activities such as playing, walking, household chores, gardening, and dancing. Any activity, be it for work, to walk or cycle to and from places, or as part of leisure time, has a health benefit.
Fact 4: Moderate and vigorous physical activity bring benefitsIntensity refers to the rate at which the activity is being performed. It can be thought of as how hard a person works to do an activity. The intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people. Depending on an individual's relative level of fitness, examples of moderate physical activity could include: brisk walking, dancing, or household chores. Examples of vigorous physical activity could be: running, fast cycling, fast swimming, or moving heavy loads.
Fact 5: 60 minutes a day for people 5–17 years oldPeople aged 5–17 should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. More than 60 minutes of physical activity a day brings additional health benefits.
Fact 6: 150 minutes a week for people 18–64 years oldAdults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity. In order to be beneficial for cardio-respiratory health, all activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
Fact 7: Adults aged 65 and aboveThe main recommendations for adults and older adults are the same. In addition, older adults with poor mobility should do physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls 3 or more days per week. When older adults cannot do the recommended amount of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
Fact 8: All healthy adults need to be physically activeUnless specific medical conditions indicate the contrary, WHO’s recommendations apply to all people – irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, or income level. These recommendations also apply to individuals with chronic noncommunicable conditions, not related to mobility, such as hypertension or diabetes. Adults with disabilities should also follow WHO’s recommendations.
Fact 9: Some physical activity is better than noneInactive people should start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency, and intensity over time. Inactive adults, older adults, and those with disease limitations will have added health benefits when they become more active. Pregnant women, postpartum women, and persons with cardiac conditions may need to take extra precautions and seek medical advice before striving to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.
Fact 10: Supportive environments and communities help people to be physically activeUrban and environmental policies have huge potential to increase levels of physical activity . These policies should ensure that:
* walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation are accessible and safe for all;
* labour and workplace policies encourage physical activity;
* schools have safe spaces and facilities for students to spend their free time actively; and
* sports and recreation facilities provide opportunities for everyone to be physically active.