Physical activity

Nearly one third of adults are not physically active enough worldwide

Source: WHO Global Status Report NCDs 2010

There is convincing evidence that being physically active protects against colon cancer and also against becoming overweight or obese. Being physically active also probably protects against cancers of the breast (post menopause) and endometrium WCRF/AICR Second Expert Report. Being overweight or obese is linked to a number of cancers including bowel, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, endometrium, breast (post menopause), bladder and stomach cardia.

Physical inactivity is estimated to cause 3.2 million deaths worldwide annually. Globally, 31% of adults aged 15 years or older were insufficiently active (men 28% and women 34%) in 2008. Insufficient physical activity is defined as less than 30 minutes of moderate activity five times per week, or less than 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times per week, or equivalent.

High-income countries had more than double the prevalence compared to low-income countries for both men and women, with 41% of men and 48% of women being insufficiently physically active in high-income countries as compared to 18% of men and 21% of women in low-income countries.

The chart shows data for both sexes combined for countries producing results for years 2008-2010. More than half the populations of Argentina, the UK and South Africa were insufficiently active; whereas in Mongolia, Benin and Bangladesh less than 10 per cent were not active enough.

These data may be explained by more occupation and transport related physical activity for both men and women in the low-and lower-middle-income countries. The increased automation of work and other aspects of life may explain the higher levels of insufficient physical activity in higher-income countries.

Age standardised percentages of insufficient physical activity for 2008-2010

Age standardised percentages of insufficient physical activity for 2008-2010