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Get going!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

As WHO launches its global action plan on physical activity, it’s time to remind ourselves of the need to have less sedentary lifestyles

On  June 4, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus joined Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal to launch the new WHO Global action plan on physical activity and health 2018-2030: More active people for a healthier world. The drive was launched at the Portuguese Football Association’s iconic Cidade do Futebol (City of Football).

“Being active is critical for health,” said Dr Tedros. “But in our modern world, this is becoming more and more of a challenge, largely because  our cities and communities aren’t designed in the right ways.” Dr Tedros spoke of how leaders at all levels should take responsibility for this and create healthier spaces at the city level, but this is hardly the sort of thing that is left only to the government; as individuals, it is certainly in our hands to be more active—get off our computers, switch off our TV sets, and step out into the streets, however crowded or unpleasant they might be.

Worldwide, says WHO, one in five adults, and four out of five adolescents (11-17 years), do not do enough physical activity. Girls, women, older adults, poorer people, people with disabilities and chronic diseases, marginalised populations, and indigenous people have fewer opportunities to be active.


So why is physical activity important? After all, if you are eating right (which most of us don’t do, by the way), then surely there is no need to walk, swim, go gymming or do whatever else is needed to keep our  systems pumping?

The fact is, as WHO points out, regular physical activity is key to preventing and treating non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. NCDs are responsible for 71% of all deaths globally, including for the deaths of 15 million people per year aged 30 to 70.

There are also enormous financial costs. Globally, physical inactivity is estimated to cost US$54 billion in direct health care, of which 57% is incurred by the public sector and an additional US$14 billion is attributable to lost productivity.

WHO’s action plan shows how countries can reduce physical inactivity in adults and adolescents by 15% by 2030. It recommends a set of 20 policy areas, which combined, aim to create more active societies through improving the environments and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to do more walking, cycling, sport, active recreation, dance and play.


It’s true that not all of us are hard-wired to be athletes. As Dr Tedros points out, however, “You don’t need to be a professional athlete to choose to be active. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator makes a difference. Or walking or using the bike instead of driving to your neighborhood bakery. It’s the choices we make each and every day that can keep us healthy. Leaders must help make these choices the easy ones.”

Meanwhile, stop blaming the government for your own poor health. Yes, it needs to build more open spaces; it needs to sort out the commuter crush so that you are breathing fresh air instead of someone else’s armpits in the train; it needs to build cycling tracks and ensure they are used… the list is a long one and hopefully someday Mumbai will become a livable city.


Stop making excuses

We’ve heard them all—too much work, not enough time, not enough green grass to walk upon; the gyms are expensive; your lovely hairdo will get messed up… what else can you think of? How about thinking them up while you’re out on a long walk?

Start small

Don’t immediately start on a 10-mile marathon or try to do a headstand. If you overdo it in the beginning, you will either injure yourself or get too exhausted to continue. Take a half-hour stroll as you listen to music, or do ten toe-touching bends, stretching a little more each time.

Get a buddy

Ask a friend to join you, so that you can not only motivate each other, but keep each other company. Chatting with a friend (or better still, indulging in a little friendly competition to see who can walk faster) will make all the difference. You will be surprised at how fast the time disappears! Soon, you will be walking for an hour together rather than half the time.

Clean your home

Did you know that a vigorous cleaning session can burn up to 200 calories an hour? Scrub your walls, mop your floor (no long-handled mops, please!). You will get a dual sense of satisfaction—great exercise and a clean space.

Take the stairs

Who wants to be in a crowded elevator anyway?

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