The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new version of its recommendations on the amount of physical activity that is required to offer significant health benefits and mitigate health risks. According to the agency, four out of five adolescents and one out of four adults are not practicing enough physical activities, increasing the risk of death by 20 to 30 percent.

The agency rec alls that there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001, and that the level of insufficient activity increased from 31.6 percent to 36.8 percent in high-income countries between 2001 and 2016. The growing use of screens has reinforced this trend/

The new recommendations have been made for all populations and age groups ranging from five to 65 years and older. The previous guidelines were released in 2010. For the first time, the WHO said, recommendations are provided on the associations between sedentary lifestyle and health outcomes, as well as for specific subpopulations - pregnant and post-partum women, people living with a chronic condition and people living with disability.

In general, as recommended previously, children and adolescents (5 – 17 years old) should do at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity. Most of this activity should be aerobic. Furthermore, at least three times a week, physical activity in this age group should incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities as well as activities that strengthen muscles and bones.

Adults (18 – 64 years old) and older adults (aged 65 or older) should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week. For additional health benefits, activities should be, on at least two days a week, at moderate or greater intensity and involve all major muscle groups.

The WHO had previously recommended only 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week for this age group. The agency points out that regular physical activity is a key to avoid heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and depression, while stimulating brain cells.

In older adults (aged 65 or older), physical activity is especially important as it also helps prevent falls and fall-related injuries as well as declines in bone health and functional ability. It improves general health conditions and helps maintain balance and body coordination.

Pregnant and post-partum women without contraindication are encouraged to undertake regular physical activity. For substantial health benefits, they should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. They should also incorporate aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities as well as gentle stretching. As in all adults, sedentary behavior is associated with a variety of poor health outcomes (cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality, among others) in pregnant and post-partum women as well, the document explains, which means that pregnant and post-partum women should also limit the amount of time spent being sedentary.

The 2020 WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour build on the most recent scientific advances and replace the 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health, which represented the first population-based public health guidelines for children and adolescents, adults and older adults. In order to develop the 2020 guidelines, a Guideline Development Group (GDG) was formed which consisted of 27 experts and stakeholders, taking into account geographical diversity and gender balance. The draft guidelines were externally reviewed by seven independent reviewers. Then, an online public consultation on the draft guidelines generated feedback from over 400 contributors.

The 2020 main guideline document (104 pages) can be downloaded from the WHO website at https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015111. An expanded guideline document (535 pages) is also available at https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015111. Furthermore, a comprehensive comment of the new WHO guidelines, co-authored by a group of international researchers, was published in The Lancet on Nov. 25.

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