Every Move Counts – Staying Active During COVID-19 Could Save 5 Millions Deaths A Year

As coronavirus policies initially forced many of us to turn into couch potatoes glued to our screens, the World Health Organization emphasizes that we can remain active and healthy even in COVID times. 

Regular physical activity of any type, and any duration, including dance, running, or even everyday household tasks like gardening or cleaning, can boost health and wellbeing, although more is always better, emphasized the WHO’s director of health promotion Ruediger Krech on Wednesday, at the launch of the Organization’s new guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

The guidelines come on the heels of surprising statistics that a whopping four out of five adolescents, and one in five adults, are failing to get their minimum dose of physical activity, especially girls, women and lower-income groups. If they were widely adopted, the guidelines could help save five million lives a year that are lost to physical inactivity, as well as US$54 billion in direct health care, and another US$14 billion in productivity. 

“Being physically active is critical for health and well-being – it can help to add years to life and life to years,” added WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Friday. “Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all move every day – safely and creatively.” 

There are few health promotion strategies that can hit so many diseases in one go as physical activity. In fact, regular exercise can help prevent and manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, which together account for almost three quarters of deaths worldwide, according to the WHO. Physical activity can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, curb cognitive decline in older people, while also enhancing memory and bolstering brain health. 

The new guidelines call for moderate to vigorous aerobic activity for one hour a day in children and adolescents, 2.5 hours a week for pregnant women, and 2.5 to 5 hours a week for adults and older people, including those with chronic conditions or disabilities.

“The new guidelines recommend between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week for for all adults, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents,” said Dr. Tedros at the press briefing.

Older people should also engage in activities that promote functional balance, coordination and muscle strengthening to help prevent falls, which are the second leading cause of accidental deaths from injury worldwide.

The new, and more detailed guidelines replace the earlier guidelines on diet, exercise and physical activity issued a decade ago. In contrast to the guidelines from 2010, the latest guidelines are more inclusive because they offer specific advice on physical activity for pregnant women, postpartum women, as well those living disabilities and chronic conditions. 

The new guidelines are based on a comprehensive 500-page review of the most recent evidence on physical activity and its benefits, and are are part of the broader global action plan on physical activity, whose aim is to reduce physical inactivity by 15% in the next decade. 

WHO reccommends 2.5 hours a week of physical excercise for pregnant women

Image Credits: @WHO/Yoshi Shimizu, WHO.

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