The data linking sedentary lifestyles and ill-health are voluminous, yet the global activity rates have remained flat. We are living longer, and many countries are grappling with aging populations who have multiple chronic illnesses – many improved with a modest increase in physical activity. What are the implications for this flat trend in rates of physical activity and is there any evidence for how we can support people moving more?
In the recent issue of Lancet, Regina Guthold and colleagues from the World Health Organisation (WHO) published on worldwide trends in physical activity from 2001-2016 pooling data from 358 population-based surveys totaling 1.9 million participants, which represents 96% of the global population.
Findings show that persistently over a quarter of the worldwide population is not meeting the daily recommended 30 minutes of physical activity. Viewing this trend against the backdrop of the global burden in chronic disease this data should sound alarms for global public health communities to increase partnerships with urban and rural planners and other groups to increase opportunities for physical activity as a component of any blueprint for community development. Implementing new policies to address inactivity and promote activity is even more salient in countries and communities undergoing rapid urbanization like Brazil and Argentina.
Wealthy nations are trending towards more sedentary behaviors. If we consider the changes we have personally experienced in how we work; that being we are more sedentary, our transportation to and from work; that being we have longer commutes and spend more time in our cars; implementing policies to encourage activity is imperative. Additionally, the way we work is about to go through some significant changes as technology becomes more pervasive means we have new opportunities to introduce active elements to our days.
What Works to Move Communities?
In the May edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Kaiser Permanente published a series of articles documenting the journey of their Community Health Initiatives which focused on promoting sustainable changes in food and physical activity environments at a community level. In one study, Madeline Frost and colleagues from Kaiser Permanente’s Washington Health Research Institute reported findings on implementing a playground intervention to encourage physical activity at the intermediate school level in Colorado. Building habits around physical activity can start young. Recommended standards for children and adolescents are 60 minutes of physical activity or active play a day and studies show only 21% of youth meet this standard daily.
The study implemented a playground redesign which included the addition of structural and loose play equipment that children could avail of at recess. The researchers conducted direct observations at several time points in the study to assess how many students in the playground were engaged in different levels of activity (moderate, vigorous and sedentary). Findings show that six months into the observations, rates of moderate to vigorous activity increased by 23.3% compared to baseline, rates of vigorous activity also increased by 26.2%, these changes were sustained at one year, 17.2%, and 33.1% respectively. More studies are showing when you embed opportunities to be active in communities it leads to increases in physical activity.
While global rates of insufficient physical activity are persistent, many studies are pointing the way to policy, urban and rural planning changes that can promote activity globally. Leveraging technology to track activity levels also holds tremendous potential to pinpoint real-time activity levels and engage people globally in being active.
Thanks for reading- Trina
(Opinions are my own)
Lancet Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity
Playground Intervention Study