Illustration: Shyam G Menon
The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the importance of a physically active life.
“ Up to 5 million deaths a year could be averted if the global population was more active. At a time when many people are home bound due to COVID-19, new WHO Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour, launched today, emphasize that everyone, of all ages and abilities, can be physically active and that every type of movement counts,’’ a press release dated November 25, 2020, available on the website of WHO said.
According to it, the new guidelines recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults, including people living with chronic conditions or disability, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents.
WHO’s statistics show that one in four adults and four in five adolescents do not get enough physical activity. Globally this is estimated to cost 54 billion dollars in direct health care and another 14 billion dollars to lost productivity.
The guidelines encourage women to maintain regular physical activity throughout pregnancy and post-delivery. They also highlight the valuable health benefits of physical activity for people living with disabilities.
Older adults (aged 65 years or older) are advised to add activities which emphasize balance and coordination, as well as muscle strengthening, to help prevent falls and improve their health. According to the release, 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 – it can help to add years to life and life to years,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying in the release. “ Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all move every day – safely and creatively,” he said.
All physical activity is beneficial and can be done as part of work, sport and leisure or transport (walking, wheeling and cycling), but also through dance, play and everyday household tasks, like gardening and cleaning, the release said. “ Physical activity of any type, and any duration can improve health and wellbeing, but more is always better,” Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion, WHO, was quoted as saying. “ 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,” she added.
“ These new guidelines highlight how important being active is for our hearts, bodies and minds, and how the favourable 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.
According to the release, WHO encourages 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 per cent by 2030.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)