Pillar 3 Physical Activity

Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure (WHO). It is essential to good health, and regular exercise can reduce the risk of many non-communicable diseases.

Pillar 3 focuses on the need for, and benefit gained from, regular physical activity. The pillar outlines the levels of activity considered necessary for an individual to remain healthy throughout their lifetime.

  • Physical activity is important because…

Regular moderate intensity physical activity – such as walking, cycling, or participating in sports – significantly improves health, fitness and mood.

Adequate levels of physical activity help to control weight and reduces the risk of metabolic illnesses (WHO). Being active can reduce the risk of a host of non-communicable illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, colon and breast cancer and dementia.

Regular activity also has a role in the management of established illness, for example, lifestyle changes are almost always first step in treatment for people diagnoses diabetes.

In addition, physical activity has a range of related benefits, such as reduced stress, increased mental health, improved sleep and reducing the risk of a hip or vertebral fracture, particularly in older people.

It is never too early or too late to start incorporating physical activity into your daily life.

  • Lack of physical activity is the cause of…

Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally (WHO). Approximately 6% of all mortality globally can be directly related to physical inactivity, and this figure is rising rapidly.

Globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were insufficiently active in 2008 (men 28% and women 34%) (WHO). The current levels of physical inactivity are due to two socioeconomic factors: insufficient participation in physical activity during leisure time and an increase in sedentary occupational and domestic activities. To a lesser extent, an increase in the use of “passive” modes of transport, e.g. buses and cars versus walking or riding bicycles, has led to declining physical activity levels.

The reasons for these changes in behaviour are complex, but increased urbanization is likely one of the major factors that has discouraged participation in physical activity due to higher levels of violence, high-density traffic and air pollution, as well as the ease of access of sedentary jobs and leisure activities in urban areas.

  • WHO recommendations for physical activity…

In general, as outlined in the World Health Organisation’s recommendations set out in the “Global strategy on diet, exercise and health” 2004, different types and amounts of physical activity are required for different health outcomes. At least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity physical activity on most days reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer. Muscle strengthening and balance training can reduce falls and increase functional status among older adults. More activity may be required for weight control.

The World Health Organisation’s “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health” addressed physical inactivity across three age groups: 5 – 17 year olds, 18 – 64 year olds and those 65 years old and above.

Children and adolescents in the 5 – 17 year old age-group, in order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health, and cardiovascular and metabolic health biomarkers, should:

  • Accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily
  • Gain greater benefit from being active for more than 60 minutes per day
  • Generally focus on aerobic physical activity. Vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, such games or sport that include jumping, running and agility, at least 3 times per week

Adults in the 18 – 64 year old age-group, should:

  • Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity
  • Perform aerobic activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration
  • For additional health benefits, increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week
  • Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week

Adults aged 65 years or older should, in order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and functional health, reduce the risk of NCDs, depression and cognitive decline:

  • Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. Or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity
  • Perform aerobic activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration
  • For additional health benefits, increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week
  • Include muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, on 2 or more days a week
  • Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week
  • When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow
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