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Nearly 1.8 Billion Adults at Risk Globally Due to Insufficient Physical Activity

-Editorial

Alarming new data reveals that nearly one-third (31%) of adults worldwide, equivalent to approximately 1.8 billion people, did not meet the recommended levels of physical activity in 2022. This trend marks a concerning rise in physical inactivity among adults, which has increased by about 5 percentage points from 2010 to 2022.

If this trend continues, the rate of inactivity is projected to reach 35% by 2030, putting the world off track from meeting the global target to reduce physical inactivity by that year. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination, per week. Physical inactivity significantly heightens the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancers such as breast and colon cancer.

The study, conducted by WHO researchers in collaboration with academic colleagues, was published in *The Lancet Global Health* journal.

“These new findings highlight a lost opportunity to reduce cancer, and heart disease, and improve mental well-being through increased physical activity,” stated Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We must renew our commitments to increasing levels of physical activity and prioritize bold action, including strengthened policies and increased funding, to reverse this worrying trend.”

The highest rates of physical inactivity were recorded in the high-income Asia Pacific region (48%) and South Asia (45%). Other regions showed varying levels of inactivity, ranging from 28% in high-income Western countries to 14% in Oceania.

Gender and age disparities persist, with physical inactivity being more prevalent among women globally (34%) compared to men (29%), and older adults (over 60) being less active than younger adults. This underscores the importance of promoting physical activity across all demographics.

“Physical inactivity is a silent threat to global health, contributing significantly to the burden of chronic diseases,” said Dr. Rüdiger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO. “We need to find innovative ways to motivate people to be more active, considering factors like age, environment, and cultural background. By making physical activity accessible, affordable, and enjoyable for all, we can significantly reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases and create a healthier and more productive population.”

Despite the troubling results, there are some positive signs. Almost half of the world’s countries have shown some improvements over the past decade, with 22 countries on track to meet the global target of reducing inactivity by 15% by 2030 if current trends continue.

In response to these findings, WHO is urging countries to enhance their policies to promote physical activity through grassroots and community sports, active recreation, and transport options such as walking, cycling, and public transport.

“Promoting physical activity goes beyond individual lifestyle choices – it requires a whole-of-society approach and creating environments that make it easier and safer for everyone to be more active in ways they enjoy to reap the many health benefits of regular physical activity,” said Dr. Fiona Bull, Head of the WHO Unit for Physical Activity.

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