Most countries are failing dismissally to promote physical exercise despite inactivity playing a major role in heart disease, obesity and diabetes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO’s newly released Global status report on physical activity 2022 measures the extent to which governments are implementing recommendations to increase physical activity across all ages and abilities.
Data from 194 countries shows that less than half the countries have a national physical activity policy, and only 30% have physical activity guidelines for all age groups. Just over 40% of countries have roads designed to enable safer walking and cycling.
“We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activity. The benefits are huge, not only for the physical and mental health of individuals, but also for societies, environments, and economies,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “We hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier, and fairer societies for all.”
The economic burden of physical inactivity is significant and the cost of treating new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will reach nearly $300 billion by 2030, according to the WHO.
To help countries increase physical activity, WHO’s Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 offers 20 policy recommendations, including policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transport, provide more programs and opportunities for physical activity in key settings, such as childcare, schools, primary health care and the workplace.
The report calls for countries to prioritize physical activity as key to improving health and tackling NCDs, integrate physical activity into all relevant policies, and develop tools, guidance and training to improve implementation.
“It is good for public health and makes economic sense to promote more physical activity for everyone,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director Department of Health
Exercise and COVID-19 vaccine
Meanwhile, a South African observational study of over 190,000 people suggests that regular physical activity may have boosted the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on Wednesday, was conducted by the health insurance company, Discovery Health, and its wellness programme, Vitality, in collaboration with Witwatersrand Sport and Health Research Group and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
It drew on the anonymized medical records, and recordable activity tracker data for 196,444 healthcare workers vaccinated with the J&J vaccine, who were clients of both a Discovery Health Administered Scheme and a Vitality wellness programme.
Those who were fully vaccinated and had high weekly levels of physical activity were nearly three times less likely to be admitted to hospital than those who were vaccinated but in the low physical activity category.
“We set out to test the hypothesis that regular physical activity enhances the immune-boosting effect of COVID-19 vaccines, reducing severe outcomes in vaccinated people (measured by hospital admission),” explains Discovery Health’s analytics actuary, Shirley Collie.
“The risk of hospital admission among fully vaccinated healthcare workers was reduced by 60% in the group who engaged in low levels of physical activity, and by 72% and 86% in the medium and high physical activity groups, respectively.”
However, Professor Glenda Gray, President of the South African Medical Research Council, cautions that more research is needed to understand why exercise enhances the vaccine’s effects.
“For now, we suggest this may be a combination of enhanced antibody levels, improved T-cell immunosurveillance and psychosocial factors,” said Gray.
Image Credits: WHO/A. Loke.
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