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Lack of exercise may be linked to higher prevalence of non-communicable diseases

A study conducted by the WHO has brought to light alarming figures indicating that a lack of exercise may be linked to a higher prevalence of non-communicable diseases.


The increasing rate of a lack of exercise worldwide is raising more than a few alarms. It is known that lack of exercise is a leading cause of non-communicable diseases, impacting quality of life as well as mental health. The figures across the world for the lack of exercise have shown no improvement since the year 2001.

About 1.4 billion of the world’s adult population are at a higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and dementia due to rising levels of inactivity. A recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in The Lancet Global Health looked at how a lack of exercise may be linked to a higher prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

The analysis included data from 358 population surveys that were conducted between 2001 and 2016. The data came from over 2 million participants, which was representative of about 96% of the global population. This indicates that over a quarter of the world’s population was definitely not getting enough physical activity. This translates to a high number of individuals being at an exacerbated risk of developing a number of severe illnesses.

Higher rates of lack of exercise in high-income countries

The prevalence of lack of exercise did vary across populations and income groups. The highest rates of a lack of exercise were from the Caribbean, Latin America, high-income Western countries, and high-income countries in the Asia Pacific. In fact, the rates were double in higher-income countries than lower-income countries in 2016. Higher levels of physical inactivity could be explained by the greater number of people using motorised transportation as well as the higher number of people in sedentary occupations in these high-income groups.

The authors note that it is important to improve the national policy to encourage cycling, walking, and participation in sports and active recreation in countries where rapid urbanisation is occurring, such as Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, etc. Some of the least active countries were located in the Middle East, North Africa and Central and South America.

Women tend to have lower physical activity than men

Sex differences in physical activity were seen as well; women had lower physical activity than men. This is in line with previous research findings that women do less intensive work than men and also have less leisure time than men. Better access to safe leisure time practices to increase their levels of exercise and also bridging this gender gap is important.

Better infrastructure for walking, better initiatives to encourage cycling, more open spaces and parks for physical activity are all important variables which must be included in community settings as well as local parks. The study released just ahead of the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on non-communicable diseases and highlights that a lack of exercise is a primary risk factor.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Guthold, R., Stevens, G. A., Riley, L. M., & Bull, F. C. (2018). Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys with 1· 9 million participants. The Lancet Global Health6(10), e1077-e1086.



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