A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that more than a quarter of people globally are not getting enough physical exercise. This equates to around 1.4 billion people, a figure which has barely improved since 2001. What’s more, high income countries like the UK were among the least active.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, saw researchers look at data from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries. They showed that in countries like the UK and the USA the number of inactive people has actually increased from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016. By contrast, low income countries’ results stayed stable at 16%.

Those classed as inactive engaged in less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise – or 75 minutes of intense exercise – per week.

Experts state that the reason wealthier countries are more prone to inactivity could be due to more sedentary jobs and hobbies, as well as car-centred travel. In lower income countries, people are more likely to have physical jobs and rely on walking for travel.

Women were also found to be less active than men in all of the world’s regions apart from East and South-East Asia. Researchers said this is likely to be due to a combination of factors, including extra childcare duties and cultural attitudes to women exercising. Co-author of the study, Dr Fiona Bull, commented on this aspect of the study’s results, saying:

“Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable.”

Previously, WHO had been aiming for a global goal of reducing inactivity by 10% by 2025. In light of these figures however, they now say that this target will not be met.

Lead author of the study, Dr Regina Guthold, discussed the consequences of the findings in more detail, saying:

“Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health.”

Guthold continued: “Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.”

How much exercise should you be getting?

The recommended amount of exercising you should be getting changes depending on what age group you fall into. Below you’ll find some recommendations based on data from Public Health England.

For children aged 5-18: 60 minutes of physical activity.

For adults aged 19-64: 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

For adults aged 65 and over: 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, as well as strength exercises two days a week.

Activities that can count as moderate aerobic activity include fast walking, bike riding, hiking, water aerobics and sports such as basketball, volleyball and tennis. Vigorous activity may consist of running, swimming, gymnastics, martial arts or sports like football and rugby. Muscle strengthening exercises include weightlifting, push ups, sit ups, yoga and activities such as gardening.

Making time for physical activity is absolutely vital to our overall health. Inactivity increases your risk of a large number of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. These risks are increased further if you are overweight.

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