Global Health Observatory (GHO)

Prevalence of insufficient physical activity

Situation and trends

Insufficient physical activity is the 4th leading risk factor for mortality. Approximately 3.2 million deaths and 32.1 million DALYs (representing about 2.1% of global DALYs) each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity. People who are insufficiently physically active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week. Participation in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week or its equivalent is estimated to reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease by approximately 30%, the risk of diabetes by 27%, and the risk of breast and colon cancer by 21%-25%. Additionally, regular physical activity lowers the risk of stroke, hypertension, and depression. It is a key determinant of energy expenditure and thus fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

Globally in 2008, 31% of adults aged 15+ were insufficiently active (men 28% and women 34%).

Prevalence of insufficient physical activity was highest in the WHO Region of the Americas and the Eastern Mediterranean Region. In both these regions, almost 50% of women were insufficiently active, while the prevalence for men was 40% in the Americas and 36% in Eastern Mediterranean. The South East Asian Region showed the lowest percentages (15% for men and 19% for women). In all WHO Regions, men were more active than women, with the biggest difference in prevalence between the two sexes in Eastern Mediterranean. This was also the case in nearly every country.

The prevalence of insufficient physical activity rose according to the level of income. High income countries had more than double the prevalence compared to low income countries for both men and women, with 41% of men and 48% of women being insufficiently physically active in high income countries as compared to 18% of men and 21% of women in low income countries. Nearly every second woman in high income countries was insufficiently physically active. These data may be explained by increased work and transport- related physical activity for both men and women in the low and lower middle income countries. The increased automation of work and life in higher income countries creates opportunities for insufficient physical activity.