Global Health Observatory (GHO) data

Prevalence of insufficient physical activity

Adults aged 18+ years

Insufficient physical activity is one of the 10 leading risk factors for global mortality. 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 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, or equivalent, as recommended by WHO. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer. Additionally, it lowers the risk of stroke, hypertension, and depression. Furthermore, physical activity is a key determinant of energy expenditure and thus fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

Globally in 2010, 23% of adults aged 18+ years were insufficiently active (men 20% and women 27%). Overall, older adults were less active than younger adults: 19% of the youngest age group did not meet the recommended level of physical activity, compared to 55% of the oldest age group. However, young women were slightly less active than middle-aged women.

The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (31%) and the Region of the Americas (32%) had the highest prevalence of insufficient physical activity, while the prevalence was lowest in the South-East Asia (15%) and African (21%) Regions. Across all regions, women were less active then men, with differences in prevalence between men and women of 10% and greater in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and the Region of the Americas.

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.

School going adolescents aged 11–17 years

Compared to their inactive peers, children and adolescents doing at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily have higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance and strength. Documented health benefits of regular physical activity among young people also include reduced body fat, more favourable cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk profiles, enhanced bone health, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Globally, 81% of school going adolescents aged 11–17 years were insufficiently physically active in 2010, i.e. they did less than 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, as recommended by WHO. School going adolescent girls were less active than boys, with 84% versus 78% not meeting WHO recommendations. Estimates of physical activity of adolescents are for school going adolescents due to lack of data on adolescents in the general population in most countries.

Adolescents from the WHO South-East Asia Region showed by far the lowest prevalence of insufficient physical activity (74%). Levels of insufficient physical activity were highest in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, the African Region and the Western Pacific Region (88%, 85% and 85%, respectively). Adolescent girls were less active than adolescent boys in all WHO regions. There was no clear pattern of insufficient physical activity among school going adolescents across income groups; the prevalence was highest in upper-middle-income, and lowest in lower-middle income countries.