More than 1.4 billion, or nearly 28 percent, of the world's adults do not get enough exercise, increasing their risks of heart disease and other health complications related to inactivity, according to a new study published Sept. 4 in The Lancet Global Health.
"Worldwide Trends in Insufficient Physical activity from 2001 to 2016," conducted by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO), assessed 358 population-based surveys encompassing 1.9 million adults from 168 countries. They found that 27.5 percent of survey participants did not meet WHO's weekly physical activity guidelines of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise.
Activity rates vary greatly across the globe, the study says. Only 5 percent of Ugandans failed to meet exercise guidelines, while 67 percent of Kuwaitis failed to meet guidelines.
Generally, income had a large influence over activity levels. High-income countries reported lower activity levels than low-income countries, which the researchers attributed to the sedentary nature of work and transportation in developed nations.
"National policy needs to be implemented to encourage non-motorized modes of transportation, such as walking and cycling, and to promote participation in active recreation and sports in leisure time,” the study states. "Such policies are particularly important in countries with rapid urbanization, such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, which contribute to the high levels of insufficient activity in Latin America and the Caribbean."
High-income Western nations reported an inactivity rate of nearly 37 percent, compared to 31 percent in 2001. However, when accounting for those who exercise through work and transportation, approximately 60 percent of Americans met WHO's activity guidelines.
Disparities among gender were also evident, with 25.5 percent of men not meeting physical activity guidelines, compared to 31.5 percent of women. The authors suggest this is related to differing norms surrounding work and recreation, in addition to accessibility factors that, in some parts of the world, inhibit women from exercising.
WHO recommends countries "urgently address" the need of increased physical activity in adults' daily life and leisure time. The organization's ultimate goal is to reduce physical inactivity by 10 percent by 2025, although inactivity rates dropped only 1 percent between 2001 and 2016, according to the study.
“Implementation will require bold leadership and full engagement across sectors to change the current approach,” the study states. “Collaboration across sectors could generate significant returns, because policies that support increasing physical activity can provide other benefits to health, local economies, community well-being and environmental sustainability.”