Exercise provides huge benefits.
It saves millions of lives and improves life quality and health
According to a study recently published on Lancet Global Health, 150 minutes’ exercise of moderate intensity or 75 minutes’ exercise of vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity per week saves at least 3.9 million adults from premature death each year in the world.
In this descriptive research, researchers collected data on national physical activities and all-cause mortality of people from 168 countries between the year 2001 and 2016. In order to better assess the effect of physical activity on saving people from premature death, researchers only picked the data from adults between 40 and 74 years old and used “prevented fraction for the population” (PFP) model to carry out the data evaluation. This is also the first worldwide PFP research related to sports activity.
The results show that doing exercise saves 15% of global population, namely 2.9 million people, from premature death. The PFP shows the highest rate in Africa, which is 16.6%, and lowest in U.S., which is 13.1%. Low-income countries and regions show a higher PFP – 17.9% and high-income areas show lower PFP – 14.1%. Males are shown to benefit more than females from doing exercise and other physical activities, by showing a higher PFP of 16% while that of females is 14.1%.
The benefits of doing exercise have been repeatedly proven by scientists. Working out regularly helps to prevent non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer, as well as high blood pressure and overweight. It can even improve mental health and life quality, and makes people more happy.
The WHO calls people to do at least 150 minutes’ physical activity of moderate intensity or 75 minutes’ physical activity of vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity per week. People who fail to meet this criteria are in urgent need of doing more physical activities.
Lack of exercise – the 4th main risk factor of death
Though everyone knows the benefits of doing exercise, still many people are reluctant to do it.
According to the data issued by the WHO, lack of exercise has become the fourth main risk factor of death. Over 1.4 billion adults worldwide face the risk of illness due to their lack of exercise and many of them are in high-income countries. From 2001 to 2016, people who show a lack of exercise have increased from 32% to 37% among the whole population in high-income countries, with the sharpest increase seen in Germany, New Zealand, U.S, Argentina and Brazil. And the number shows a stunning decrease from 26% to 17% in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries including China.
Researchers remark that one of the main reasons for the drop is that Chinese people pay increasing attention to exercising nowadays. Meanwhile, the relevant data shows that females generally do less exercise than males.
The data indicates that 3.2 million people die from a lack of exercise in the world every year. About 21% – 25% of breast cancer and rectal cancer, 27% of diabetes and 30% of ischemic heart disease cases are the result of a lack of body activity and the rate is increasing year by year. Moreover, chronic non-communicable diseases have now taken up nearly 50% of all diseases. Of every 10 cases of death, 6 die of chronic non-communicable diseases.
Doing exercise plays a significant role in one’s physical and mental health; however, it is not always the more the better. After analyzing the longevity data of Japanese traditional culture artists, researchers at Tokyo University of Science discovered that long-term exercise/activity of high intensity may not be able to extend one’s life span. Kabuki actors and actresses who intensely danced or played their roles on the stage have shorter lives than traditional artists who perform tea ceremonies, tell comedy stories or play a musical instrument.
Exercise for different ages
What amount of exercise is the best, then? The WHO developed the “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health”, giving guidance on the frequency, duration, intensity, type and total amount of physical activity needed for different ages. The WHO addresses three age groups:
For 5-17 year olds: children and young people, physical activity includes play, games, sports, transportation, chores, recreation, physical education, or planned exercise, in the context of family, school, and community activities.
Children and youths aged 5-17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. Amounts of physical activity greater than 60 minutes provide additional health benefits. Most of the daily physical activity should be aerobic. Vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.
For adults aged 18-64, physical activity includes leisure time physical activity, transportation (e.g. walking or cycling), occupational (i.e. work), household chores, play, games, sports or planned exercise, in the context of daily, family, and community activities.
Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
For adults aged 65 years old and above, physical activity includes leisure time physical activity, transportation (e.g. walking or cycling), occupational (if the individual is still engaged in work), household chores, play, games, sports or planned exercise, in the context of daily, family, and community activities.
Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration. For additional health benefits, older adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity activity. Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week. Muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, should be done on 2 or more days a week. When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
Various countries call the public to do more exercise
In addition to improving health, doing exercise also contributes to social welfare including reducing the usage of fossil fuel, air pollution and traffic jam and helping to fulfill the goal of global sustainable development. Beneficial as it is, very few can persist in doing exercise regularly.
Currently, the global health level is mainly affected by three factors: aging population, unordered rapid urbanization and unordered rapid globalization, which result in unhealthy living environment and behavioral patterns. Various countries and regions have released guidelines to drive people to work out more. As early as 2005, Australia issued a report called “Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults” in which it calls people to seek chances to do exercise, to try more varieties of physical activities every day, to form the habit of walking or cycling, to use hands and feet more instead of relying on machines, and to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day.
In 2008, the U.S. released the “Do Activity in Your Own Way: Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults”: choose an activity that you like fit for your lifestyle; do activity with your friends and family members; there are many ways to combine moderate activities into daily life; start with activities that is fit for your ability and increase the intensity gradually; form your own way of doing physical activities and gradually increase the duration and frequency.
The Guidelines also says that walking is a good form of daily physical activity. You may start with 10 minutes’ walk a day and then gradually increase the duration and frequency. Try to walk 15 minutes a day and increase the days per week that you walk. During the weekends, you may try new things like cycling. To encourage people do exercise more actively, the WHO released the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity and Health 2018-2030. This new global action plan provides a framework of effective and feasible policy actions. The WHO calls the member countries to make new policies and intervening measures on physical activities with the aim of promoting health of the people, such as introducing new transportation policies to encourage walking or cycling to school or workplace, constructing more recreational areas to encourage people to do exercise more actively, and so on.