Every move counts: WHO releases new physical activity guidelines for better health

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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If the global population was more active, up to 5 million deaths a year could be averted, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO recently released it guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior, introduced recently at a time when many individuals are homebound due to COVID-19. The guidelines stress that everyone, of all ages and abilities, can be physically active and that every type of movement counts.

For all adults, including people living with chronic conditions or disabilities, the new guidelines recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents.

Statistics from the WHO indicate that one in four adults and four out of five adolescents do not get adequate physical activity. It is estimated that this costs $54 billion in direct health care and another $14 billion in lost productivity globally.

The guidelines encourage women to maintain regular physical activity throughout pregnancy and post-delivery. For people living with disabilities also they also highlight the valuable health benefits of physical activity.

In order to help prevent falls and improve health, older adults (aged 65 years or older) are recommended to add activities which emphasize balance and coordination, as well as muscle strengthening.

Regular physical activity is key to preventing and helping to manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, as well as reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing cognitive decline, improving memory and boosting brain health.

“Being physically active is critical for health and well-being as it can help to add years to life and life to years. Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all move every day, safely and creatively,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

All physical activity is helpful and can be carried out as part of work, sport and leisure or transportation (walking, wheeling and cycling), but also through dance, play and regular household activities, such as gardening and cleaning.

“Physical activity of any type, and any duration can improve health and wellbeing, but more is always better,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion, WHO, “and if you must spend a lot of time sitting still, whether at work or school, you should do more physical activity to counter the harmful effects of sedentary behavior.”

“These new guidelines highlight how important being active is for our hearts, bodies and minds, and how the favorable outcomes benefit everyone, of all ages and abilities”, said Dr Fiona Bull, Head of the Physical Activity Unit which led the development of the new WHO guidelines.

WHO encouraged countries to adopt the global guidelines to develop national health policies in support of the WHO Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030. The plan was agreed by global health leaders at the 71st World Health Assembly in 2018 to reduce physical inactivity by 15 percent by 2030.