WHO updates fact file on Physical Activity (24 January 2017)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact file on physical activity.

Key Messages:

Globally, 23% of adults and 81% of school-going adolescents are inadequately physically active.

In general

  • Women and girls are less physically active than men and boys
  • Older persons are less physically active than younger persons

Fact #1: Physical activity reduces the risk of disease

Physical activity reduces the risk of

  • coronary heart disease
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • stroke
  • depression
  • certain cancers- colon cancer and breast cancer

Fact #2: Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy body

Physically active people

  • improve their muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness
  • improve their bone and functional health
  • have a lower risk of falling; developing hip or vertebral fractures
  • are more likely to maintain their weight

Fact #3: Physical activity is not the same as sport

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that uses energy.

This includes

  • sports
  • exercise
  • household chores
  • playing
  • walking
  • gardening
  • dancing, etc.

Any activity- for work; travel; or as part of leisure time- has a health benefit

Fact #4: Moderate and vigorous physical activity bring benefits

Intensity indicates how hard a person works to do an activity

Depending upon a person’s level of fitness,

examples of moderate physical activity include

  • brisk walking
  • dancing
  • household chores

examples of vigorous physical activity include

  • running
  • fast cycling
  • fast swimming
  • moving heavy loads

Fact #5: 60 minutes a day for people 5-17 years old

People aged 5-17 years should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.

More than 60 minutes of physical activity a day brings more health benefits

Fact #6: 150 minutes a week for people 18-64 years old

Adults aged between 18-64 years old should have at least

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week OR
  • 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week

In order to be beneficial for cardio-respiratory health, all activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration

Fact #7: Adults aged 65 and above

The main recommendations for adults and older adults are the same.

Older adults with poor mobility should perform activities to improve balance and prevent falls, 3 or more days per week

When older adults cannot perform the recommended amount of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their condition permits.

Fact #8: All healthy adults need to be physically active

WHO’s recommendations apply to all people regardless of

  • gender
  • race
  • income level or
  • ethnicity
  • presence of chronic non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes
  • presence of disabilities

unless a specific medical condition indicates to the contrary

Fact #9: Some physical activity is better than none

Physically inactive people should start small and gradually increase 

  • duration
  • frequency
  • intensity

over time

Pregnant and postpartum women, and persons with cardiac conditions should seek medical advice and take extra precautions before undertaking physical activity

Fact #10: Supportive environments and communities help people to be physically active

Urban and environmental policies should ensure that

  • walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation are accessible and safe for all
  • labour and workplace policies encourage physical activity
  • schools have safe spaces and facilities for students to spend their free time actively
  • sports and recreation facilities provide opportunities for everyone to be physically active

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact file:


Link to WHO’s Global recommendations on physical activity for health:


Link to data on prevalence of insufficient physical activity:



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