Physical activity improves overall well-being. Almost 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) attributable to physical inactivity, between 2020 and 2030, if governments worldwide don’t take urgent action to promote the benefits of exercise, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Wednesday.

And the price of inaction and staying on the couch, will be severe, WHO said – around $27 billion in extra healthcare costs. The Global status report on physical activity 2022, measures the extent to which governments are implementing recommendations to increase physical activity across all ages and abilities. Data from 194 countries show that overall, progress is slow and that countries need to accelerate the development and implementation of policies to increase heart rates and help prevent disease and reduce the burden on already overwhelmed health services.

The statistics lay bare the extent of the challenges facing countries worldwide:

Less than 50 per cent of countries have a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40 per cent are operational.
Only 30 per cent of countries have national physical activity guidelines for all ages.
While nearly all countries report a system for monitoring adult exercise, only 75 per cent of countries monitor adolescent activity, and less than 30 per cent monitor physical activity in children under 5.
In transport policy terms, just over 40 per cent of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer.

The economic burden of taking it too easy is significant, says the WHO report, and the cost of treating new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will reach nearly $300 billion by 2030. Whilst national policies to tackle NCDs and physical inactivity have increased in recent years, currently 28 per cent of policies are reported to be not funded or implemented. There is much to be said for countries running a national PR campaign, or mass participation events, that extoll the benefits of getting more exercise, said WHO.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only stalled these initiatives, but it also affected other policy implementation which has widened inequities when it comes to upping the heart rate in many communities.

To help countries increase physical activity, WHO’s Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) sets out 20 policy recommendations. These include safer roads to encourage more biking and walking, and providing more programmes and opportunities for physical activity in key settings, such as childcare, schools, primary health care and the workplace. “We are missing globally approved indicators to measure access to parks, cycle lanes, foot paths – even though we know that data do exist in some countries”, said Fiona Bull, Head of WHO’s Physical Activity Unit.

The report calls for countries to prioritize a fitness boost, as key to improving health and tackling NCDs, integrate physical activity into all relevant policies, and develop tools, guidance and training.

Source: The UN


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