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Physical inactivity a ‘silent threat’ as countries, including Canada, off track – National


A growing number of people in Canada and globally are physically inactive, the World Health Organization said in a new study, calling it a “silent threat” that needs greater attention.

Data published in The Lancet Global Health journal on Tuesday showed that more than a third (31.3 per cent) of the global adult population — or roughly 1.8 billion people — did not meet the WHO’s recommended levels of physical activity in 2022.

This was an increase of almost four percentage points from 2016, when 27.5 per cent of the global population was insufficiently physically active.

For adults, the WHO recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or its equivalent combination of activities, each week.

In Canada, 37.2 per cent of adults were reported as physically inactive in 2022, the WHO study showed, going up from 31.1 per cent in 2010 and 25.6 per cent in 2000. If these trends continue, by 2030, the prevalence of physical inactivity in Canada could go up to 41.4 per cent, the WHO estimates.

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“Unfortunately, the world is not going into the right direction,” said Ruediger Krech, WHO’s director of health promotion, during a virtual news conference.

“Physical inactivity is a silent threat to global health, contributing significantly to the burden of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes or respiratory diseases,” he said.


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More screen time and less exercise: report finds pandemic is leaving it’s mark on Canadian kids


The WHO study looked at the levels of insufficient physical activity for 197 countries and territories between 2000 and 2022. It included 507 surveys from 163 countries.

It concluded that about half the countries, including Canada, have increasing trends of physical inactivity, while the other half have made progress over the past decade.

Fiona Bull, head of the WHO’s physical activity unit, said 22 countries, mostly from Europe and the West Pacific region, are on track to meet the agency’s global target of a 15 per cent relative reduction in levels of physical inactivity by 2023.

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But, overall, the world is off track from meeting that goal, she said.

“This is a wakeup call that we are not doing enough in nearly half the countries and even in those countries where there’s promising trend, there’s no room for complacency,” she said during Tuesday’s news conference.


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Scott Lear, a professor of health sciences at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said that the “distressing” part about the Canadian data is that there’s probably more people who are physically inactive because people tend to overestimate their level of activities when self-reporting.

“This 37 per cent might be closer to 45 per cent, getting close to half of the population being physically inactive,” he said in an interview with Global News.


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Why is physical activity declining?

On average, women continued to be less active than men around the world with a difference of five percentage points, data showed.

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High-income countries had a greater prevalence of physical inactivity when compared with low-income countries, but the highest levels of inactivity were in the lower-middle income classification.

There are multiple factors why physical inactivity is increasing globally, experts say.

Changing transportation patterns as roads have become unsafe means fewer people are walking and cycling, Bull said.


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Work models have shifted toward more sedentary work with greater reliance on technology, she added.

Bull also pointed to changes in leisure time activities that are more screen-based and sedentary.

“All of these trends combined with the changing environments in which we live, where there’s increasing car use, increasing pollution, and creating urban environments that are not supported for being active, add together to create conditions that do not enable physical activity,” she told reporters.

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While the WHO analysis did not take into the account the impact of COVID-19 people’s levels of activity, Lear said the pandemic restrictions also likely played a role in these trends.

Affordability is also a barrier to physical activity, experts say, as gyms, organized sports and clubs are getting more expensive.

Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for noncommunicable diseases and death worldwide, according to the WHO.

Hence, increasing your physical activity can minimize those risks, experts say.

“Physical activity needs to be accessible, affordable and enjoyable for all so that we can significantly reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions,” Krech said.

The WHO is calling on countries to strengthen policy implementation to promote and enable physical activity through community sports, active recreation and transport, through walking and cycling, as well as the use of public transit.

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Bull stressed the need for public open spaces where people live, work and play.

She said physical activity can be undertaken through either traditional sports that are formal and competitive or informal and unstructured sports, such as yoga, walking and cycling,

Even though the recommendation is for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity per week, Lear said you can start to feel the benefits from the first minute of physical activity.

He advised setting daily reminders for “an exercise snack,” where you walk around for a few minutes, do some pushups, squats or jumping jacks.

If you don’t feel like going to the gym, Lear said activities like raking the leaves in the fall, cutting the grass with a push mower over the summer, or even grocery shopping, are also considered moderate activities.

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“The best activity or exercise for any one person is that activity that they enjoy doing,” he said.





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