Why insufficient physical activity is a health hazard

WHO states that regular physical activity of moderate intensity, such as walking, cycling, or doing sports, has significant benefits for health. /Net photos

World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure, including activities undertaken while working, playing, carrying out household chores, travelling, and engaging in recreational pursuits.

Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide, and is a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.


Globally, one in four adults is not active enough. More than 80 per cent of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.


Aniket Ukey, a fitness consultant and yoga trainer based in Kigali, says that lack of enough physical activity can lead to coronary heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, breathlessness, flabby body, little energy, stiff joints, poor posture, and overweight.


He notes, one’s heart is a muscle and it can be weakened due to not exercising just like any other muscle such as biceps or calf.

The fitness consultant adds that inadequate physical activity can also lead to weight gain, especially if one has poor eating habits and spends most of their time sitting in one place.

“A person who rarely exercises can develop diabetes, this for example, is by force-feeding the excess sugar into the muscles and liver. If it happens too frequently, the insulin receptors get dulled and eventually stop responding. The result is diabetes, the inability to regulate blood sugar with tissue damage, loss of eyesight, and other dangers as a potential result,” he explains.

If one doesn’t exercise regularly, chances are they have noticed a certain lack of endurance when performing certain tasks, Ukey adds.

Without exercise, muscles weaken. In fact, one study showed men of all ages who didn’t exercise a certain muscle for two weeks lost 20 to 34 per cent of their strength in that muscle. As muscles weaken, strength decreases.

The fitness expert says that lack of physical activity can result in loss of flexibility. Lack of exercise, particularly not stretching, can cause muscles and connective tissue to tighten, which can create stress on joints, cause tiredness more easily, and increase the risk for injury. People with lowered flexibility are at increased risk of greater pain, particularly in the back and hips. Chronic inflexibility can lead to chronic pain.

Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for global mortality and is on the rise in many countries, adding to the burden of NCDs and affecting general health worldwide. People who are insufficiently active have a 20 to 30 per cent increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active.

Policies to address insufficient physical activity are operational in 56 per cent of WHO member states. WHO member states have agreed to reduce insufficient physical activity by 10 per cent by 2025.

Benefits of physical activity 

WHO states that regular physical activity of moderate intensity, such  as walking, cycling, or doing sports, has significant benefits for health. At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example, through accidents. Some physical activity is better than doing none. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels.

“Regular and adequate levels of physical activity improves muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness, improves bone and functional health, reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various types of cancer (including breast cancer and colon cancer) and depression.

“Regular physical activity also reduces the risk of falls and hip or vertebral fractures; and are fundamental to energy balance and weight control,” states WHO.

WHO further states that countries and communities must take action to provide individuals with more opportunities to be active, in order to increase physical activity.

For instance, policies to increase physical activity aim to ensure that, in cooperation with relevant sectors, physical activity is promoted through activities of daily living; walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation are accessible and safe for all; labour and workplace policies encourage physical activity; schools have safe spaces and facilities for students to spend their free time actively; quality physical education supports children to develop behaviour patterns that will keep them physically active throughout their lives; and sports and recreation facilities provide opportunities for everyone to do sports.


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