Physical activity is related to the movement of body parts produced by skeletal muscles and requires energy disbursement. Physical activity includes walking, cycling, running, swimming or playing sports. It also includes movement during leisure time, for transport to and from places, or as part of a person’s work. Physical activity improves health and doesn’t have to be intense. While more is better, some exercise is better than nothing. If you are not used to being physically active, you can start by taking small steps and building up gradually, as sudden intense physical activity can lead to injuries. It is better to jog for half an hour a day, for example, than to jog for an hour once a week.
Some of its benefits are: it increases calorie burn, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, helps maintain a healthy weight, improves balance, helps your digestion and improves the quality of life. It reduces your chance of depression by 30%, dementia by 30%, hip fractures by 68%, joint and back pain by 25%, type 2 diabetes by 40%, colon cancer by 20%, breast cancer by 20%, and cardiovascular diseases by 35%.
Not being physically active hurts economic development, health systems, community well-being, the environment, and quality of life. Worldwide, around 30% of adults aged 18 and over are not active enough. 1 in 4 men and 1 in 3 women are not sufficiently active. The definition of being sufficiently active is to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.
In countries with higher incomes, 26% of men and 35% of women were not sufficiently physically active, as compared to 1 in 8 men and 1 in 4 women in low-income countries. Lack of physical activity often corresponds with a high or rising gross national product.
Physical inactivity during leisure time and sedentary behaviour at home and on the job are particular problems that we increasingly face. With the advent of television, internet, social media, and information technology sector development, more and more of us are increasingly spending our time on PCs, laptops, smartphones and the like. This inactivity more or less affects all age groups.
Worldwide, around 80% of adolescents aged 11-17 years are not sufficiently physically active. Adolescent girls were less active than boys, with 85% vs 78% not meeting World Health Organisation recommendations of at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.
How much physical activity is recommended per age group?
World Health Organisation recommended physical activity for good health as per age group and specific population groups, is as follows:
Children less than 1 year old (in a 24-hour day)
At least half an hour in a prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while the baby is awake. This is for babies not mobile yet. For those who are a little bit more active, physical activity several times a day in various settings is recommended. It is also advised that they may not be restrained in a pram/stroller for more than an hour. Left alone with a cartoon playing on a smartphone is a no-no. Reading and storytelling in passive mode are encouraged. For babies younger than 3 months old, 14-17 hours of sleep a day is recommended and 12-16 hours for 4-11-month-old babies.
Children aged 1-2 (in a 24-hour day)
It is recommended they spend at least three hours a day in various physical activities of moderate to vigorous intensity. This should be spread throughout the day. They should not be strapped to a pram/stroller for more than an hour. No screen time is recommended. Reading and storytelling in passive mode are encouraged. 11-14 hours of sleep, including naps throughout the day, is recommended for this age group.
Children aged 3-4 (in a 24-hour day)
It is recommended they spend at least three hours a day in various physical activities of moderate to vigorous intensity. This should be spread throughout the day. They should not be strapped to a pram/stroller for more than an hour. No screen time is recommended. Reading and storytelling in passive mode are encouraged. 10-13 hours of quality sleep, including naps throughout the day, is recommended for this age group.
Children aged 5-17 yeas
They should spend at least an hour a day in various physical activities of moderate to vigorous intensity. They should do aerobic exercises and those that strengthen muscles and bones, at least 3 times a week. Screen time should be limited as it leads to a sedentary lifestyle.
Adults aged 18-64 years
They should do a physical activity of moderate-intensity two and a half to five hours per week, or a vigorous-intensity one and a quarter-hour to two and a half hours. They are also recommended to do muscle-strengthening activities involving all muscle groups twice a week. They should limit their screen time as much as they can and do more than the guided physical activity for additional health benefits.
Adults aged 65 years and above
Recommendations for this age group are the same as those for the 18-64 age group, except they should do more activities involving functional balance to prevent falls.
Pregnant and postpartum women
They are recommended to do moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least two and a half hours throughout the week.