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Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2010.

Cover of Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health

Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.

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Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6% of deaths globally). This follows high blood pressure (13%), tobacco use (9%) and high blood glucose (6%). Overweight and obesity are responsible for 5% of global mortality (1).

Levels of physical inactivity are rising in many countries with major implications for the general health of people worldwide and for the prevalence of NCDs such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer and their risk factors such as raised blood pressure, raised blood sugar and overweight. Physical inactivity is estimated as being the principal cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancer burden, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischaemic heart disease burden (1). In addition, NCDs now account for nearly half of the overall global burden of disease. It is estimated currently that of every 10 deaths, 6 are attributable to noncommunicable conditions (2).

Global health is being influenced by three trends: population-ageing, rapid unplanned urbanization, and globalization, all of which result in unhealthy environments and behaviours. As a result, the growing prevalence of NCDs and their risk factors has become a global issue affecting both low- and middle-income countries. Nearly 45% of the adult disease burden in these countries is now attributable to NCDs. Many low- and middle-income countries are beginning to suffer the double burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and health systems in these countries are now having to cope with the additional costs of treating both.

It has been shown that participation in regular physical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer and depression. Additionally, physical activity is a key determinant of energy expenditure, and thus is fundamental to energy balance and weight control (16).


In May 2004, the Fifty-seventh World Health Assembly endorsed Resolution WHA57.17: Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health and recommended that Member States develop national physical activity action plans and policies to increase physical activity levels in their populations (5). Furthermore, in May 2008, the Sixty-first World Health Assembly endorsed Resolution WHA61.14: Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases: Implementation of the Global Strategy and the Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (7).

This Action Plan urges Member States to implement national guidelines on physical activity for health and encourages them to develop and put into practice policies and interventions that:

  • develop and implement national guidelines on physical activity for health;
  • introduce transport policies that promote active and safe methods of travelling to and from schools and workplaces, such as walking or cycling;
  • ensure that physical environments support safe active commuting, and create space for recreational activity.

The action plan urges WHO to provide countries with technical support in either implementing or strengthening nationwide actions to reduce risk factors for NCDs.


The limited existence of national guidelines on physical activity for health in low- and middle-income countries, the public health significance of physical activity and the global mandates for the work of WHO, related to promotion of physical activity and NCD prevention, make evident the need for the development of global recommendations that address the links between the frequency, duration, intensity, type and total amount of physical activity needed for the prevention of NCDs.

Scientifically-informed recommendations, with a global scope, on the benefits, type, amount, frequency, intensity, duration and total amount of the physical activity necessary for health benefits are key information for policy-makers wanting to address physical activity at population level and who are involved in the development of guidelines and policies at regional and national levels on prevention and control of NCDs.

The development and publication of science-based national or regional physical activity guidelines can:

  • inform national physical activity policies and other public health interventions;
  • provide the starting point to the establishment of goals and objectives for physical activity promotion at national level;
  • foster intersectoral collaboration and contribute to setting up national goals and objectives regarding physical activity promotion;
  • provide a foundation for physical activity promotion initiatives;
  • justify the allocation of resources to physical activity promotion interventions;
  • create a framework for joint action for all other relevant stakeholders around the same goal;
  • provide an evidence-based document that enables all relevant stakeholders to transfer policy into action with the allocation of the appropriate resources; and
  • facilitate national surveillance and monitoring mechanisms to monitor population levels of physical activity.
Copyright © World Health Organization 2010.

All rights reserved. Publications of the World Health Organization can be obtained from WHO Press, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland (tel.: +41 22 791 3264; fax: +41 22 791 4857; e-mail: tni.ohw@sredrokoob). Requests for permission to reproduce or translate WHO publications – whether for sale or for noncommercial distribution – should be addressed to WHO Press, at the above address (fax: +41 22 791 4806; e-mail: tni.ohw@snoissimrep).

Bookshelf ID: NBK305049


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