The World Health Organization (WHO) just released its new guidelines for physical activity. These recommendations are based on the most up-to-date research on the health benefits of exercise and the harmful effects of sedentary lifestyles.
While we must take WHO guidelines with a grain of salt, especially considering they're the same organization that back in 1992 reclassified osteoporosis as a disease, they seem to be providing sound advice this time around that fits into a bone-healthy lifestyle.
What Counts As Physical Activity?
The World Health Organization (WHO) uses a broad definition of physical activity that includes all movement produced by skeletal muscle that requires energy expenditure. It doesn't matter why the activity is — if there’s movement, it counts.
They do distinguish between moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activities. They also make recommendations for specific muscle-strengthening activities (like resistance training) and exercises for improving balance.
The report suggests many common forms of physical activity such as walking, cycling, sports, active recreation, and other forms of physical play done at any skill level.
Such activities, performed regularly, have been proven to help prevent and manage conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Additionally, regular physical activity helps prevent hypertension and obesity while improving mental health and overall quality of life.
The WHO defines physical activity as any movement produced by skeletal muscle that requires energy expenditure. That includes walking, cycling, sports, and active recreation. Such activities help prevent a variety of serious health conditions.
A Global Crisis Of Inactivity
Along with their new recommendations, the WHO guidelines also contained statistics on the global crisis of inactivity. These figures bring a sense of urgency to encouraging and facilitating more active lifestyles.
- 1.4 billion adults (more than a quarter of all adults) are insufficiently active.
- That includes one in three women and one in four men.
- In high-income countries, inactivity levels are twice as high as in low-income countries.
- Globally, physical activity levels haven't improved since 2001.
- In high-income countries the percentage of the population that is insufficiently active increased by five percent.
- Globally, 23% of men and 32% of women didn't meet physical activity recommendations.
The report attributes these troubling statistics to inaction during leisure time and sedentary behavior both at work and at home. They also point to increased use of “passive” modes of transportation– like driving a car or riding a bus. Making healthier choices about activities and transportation is a great first step for increasing activity levels.
Inactivity has reached crisis levels across the globe. More than a quarter of all adults are insufficiently active. High-income countries are less active than low-income countries. The report blames sedentary behavior both at work and at home, along with an increase in “passive” transportation.
WHO's New Exercise Guidelines
If you were previously aware of the WHO guidelines for physical activity, then you'll notice that the recommendations are quite similar. But this year, the report is taking into account research on the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Here are the new guidelines for people aged 18 and older:
- they should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week
- should also do muscle-strengthening activities at a moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.
- may increase moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to more than 300 minutes; or do more than 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week for additional health benefits.
- should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary. Replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity (including light intensity) provides health benefits
The report recognizes that a high level of sedentary behavior has a negative impact on health. To counteract those harms, the guidelines recommend that all adults with sedentary jobs or leisure habits should aim to do more than the recommended levels of physical activity.
This new guideline is notable. If you work at a desk job where you sit all day, or your leisure activities include extended periods of sitting, you need to do more than the recommended amount of physical activity to remain healthy.
The report makes additional recommendations for adults aged 65 and older:
“As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do varied multicomponent physical activity that emphasizes functional balance and strength training at moderate or greater intensity, on 3 or more days a week, to enhance functional capacity and to prevent falls.”
This focus on building strength and functional balance to prevent falls is especially pertitent for Savers.
The guidelines recommend 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. They also emphasize muscle-strengthening exercise, and for people 65 and older, balance and strength training to prevent falls.
Physical Activity And Bone Health
This new guideline is in alignment with the exercise recommendations of the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.
Without regular physical activity, our muscles atrophy and our bones deteriorate. That's because our body changes to accommodate the tasks we use it for. The adage comes to mind: if you don't use it, you lose it!
When you're physically active, your muscles strengthen and apply pressure on your bones to create movement. Your body then responds to that pressure by making your bones stronger. This cause and effect are described by Wolff's Law. More simply put, exercise increases bone density.
The WHO guidelines are in agreement with the Osteoporosis Reversal Program. Exercise increases bone density, in addition to its many other benefits.
What This Means To You
Pay attention to how much time you spend each week engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Are you getting at least the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week?
The Save Institute knows that changing your exercise habits can be a challenge. That's why we created SaveTrainer. SaveTrainer is an online workout platform that provides all the support you need to create an enjoyable and sustainable practice of regular physical activity.
Your health is the foundation on which your entire life is built. Without exercise, that foundation can crack and crumble. But with the right care and attention, your good health and strong bones will support a wonderful future.