The WHO says insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for premature death worldwide. Picture: ISTOCK
The WHO says insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for premature death worldwide. Picture: ISTOCK

More than a quarter of the world’s adults — about 1.4 billion people — take too little exercise, putting them at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and cancers, according to a study led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In 2016, about one in three women and one in four men worldwide were not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity to stay healthy. This requires at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

There has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001, according to the study, which was conducted by the WHO researchers and published on Tuesday in The Lancet Global Health journal.

The highest rates of lack of exercise in 2016 were in adults in Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, where more than half of all adults were not active enough to protect their health.

By comparison, about 40% of adults in the US, 36% in Britain and 14% in China did too little exercise to stay healthy.

The WHO says insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for premature death worldwide

"Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health," says Regina Guthold of the WHO, a co-leader of the research.

The WHO says insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for premature death worldwide. It raises the risk of noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

By becoming more active, it says, people can improve muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness, better bone health, weight control and reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and various types of cancer.

The study found that levels of low physical activity were more than twice as great in high-income countries compared to poorer nations, and had increased by 5% in richer countries from 2001 to 2016.

In wealthier countries, a transition towards more sedentary jobs as well as sedentary forms of recreation and transport could explain higher levels of inactivity. In poorer countries, people tend to be more active at work and for transport.

The WHO urged governments to put in place infrastructure that promotes walking and cycling for transport, and for sports and recreation.

Reuters

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