Regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and manage noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several cancers. It also helps prevent hypertension, maintain healthy body weight and can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being.
Physical activity refers to all movement. Popular ways to be active include walking, cycling, wheeling, sports, active recreation and play, and can be done at any level of skill and for enjoyment by everybody.
Yet, current global estimates show one in four adults and 81% of adolescents do not do enough physical activity. Furthermore, as countries develop economically, levels of inactivity increase and can be as high as 70%, due to changing transport patterns, increased use of technology for work and recreation, cultural values and increasing sedentary behaviours.
Increased levels of physical inactivity have negative impacts on health systems, the environment, economic development, community well-being and quality of life.
The WHO Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world, provides a framework of effective and feasible policy actions which can help support, retain and increase physical activity through cross-government and multisectoral partnerships across all settings, as a coordinated and comprehensive response.
Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and death worldwide. It increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes by 20–30%. It is estimated that four to five million deaths per year could be averted if the global population was more active.
One in four adults – and four out of five adolescents don’t do enough physical activity. Women and girls generally are less active than men and boys, widening health inequalities. Older adults and people living with disabilities are also less likely to be active and miss out on the physical, mental and social health benefits.
Physical inactivity burdens society through the hidden and growing cost of medical care and loss of productivity. Estimates from 2016 show that physical inactivity cost the health system US$ 54 billion, and resulted in US$ 14 billion in economic losses. Estimates from both high-income, as well as low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) indicate that between 1–3% of national health care expenditures are attributable to physical inactivity.
In response to the urgent need to address physical inactivity levels worldwide, WHO developed the Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030 (GAPPA): more active people for a healthier world, and supports countries and stakeholders to implement these actions across the four key areas;
- Global policy and standards, underpinned by latest evidence and consensus, are updated to help countries develop appropriate policies, investment cases and financing mechanisms to increase levels of physical activity among all populations.
- Global tools and resources include toolkits to promote key activities, such as walking and cycling; integrating physical activity into primary health care; and innovations using digital platforms to help change behaviours.
- Coordination and collaboration with the sports, transport and environment sectors, strengthen “sport for all” initiatives and ensure urban design and transport systems provide safe places and opportunities for physical activity for everyone.
- Monitoring global progress through instruments such as Global physical activity questionnaire (GPAQ) and the Global school-based student health survey (GSHS) help countries assess behavioural risk factors relating to physical activity. WHO reports to the World Health Assembly on the global progress to increase physical activity by 15% by 2030, and GAPPA milestones of 2021, 2026, and 2030.
For more information on the work on physical activity go to WHO teams.