New global guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour

26 November 2020
World Health Organization releases new guidelines
University of Sydney academics are part of a select group of international experts who provided leadership and contributed to the development and dissemination of the new WHO Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour launched today.

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis who co-chaired WHO’s Guidelines Development Group and led the adult physical activity sub-committee said the WHO global guidelines reflect the latest science on the health impacts of physical activity and dangers of sedentary behaviour for people of all ages.

“These new global guidelines emphasise the importance of all people being active and acknowledge that all movement counts for better health and wellbeing – be it climbing the stairs or even household cleaning,” said Professor Stamatakis from the University’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health.

“They recommend people aim for 150–300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity or equivalent each week. As well as doing muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.”

The guidelines also include new recommendations for people living with disability, those with chronic conditions and women during pregnancy and post-delivery.

“In a significant update, the WHO guidelines also provide the first formal recommendation on countering the health harms associated with excessive sitting, by suggesting people aim to exceed the weekly recommended physical activity levels,” adds Professor Stamatakis.

“This reflects growing scientific evidence linking large amounts of sedentary time to serious health problems and a heightened risk of early death.”

BJSM Special Edition

BJSM Special Edition

This includes new wearable sensor data on countering these risks published today in a dedicated special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) which Professor Stamatakis co-edited with Professor Fiona Bull,  Director of WHO’s Physical Activity Unit and guidelines development lead.

In the editorial putting the WHO guidelines and BJSM’s special issue in context, the two write that progress on increasing population levels of physical activity has been slow and uneven. They suggest the new guidelines coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic could be the catalyst needed to move physical activity from a ‘nice to do’ to ‘a must do’ to support health and well being of peoples of all ages and walks of life.

The WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030 has a target of 15 percent improvement by 2030.

Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann, from the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health contributed to the WHO’s Guidelines Development Group sub-committee on the older adults recommendations and said the new guidelines provide specific recommendations for adults aged 65 and older.

In addition to meeting the standard adult recommendations, they suggest older adults should also undertake 'multi-component' physical activities which combine balance, coordination and muscle strengthening, on three or more days each week to help prevent falls and improve functional capacity.

“Falls can have devastating long-term consequences for an older person and are a major barrier to continued independence in older age. The inclusion of a specific recommendation on the type and amount of physical activity needed to prevent falls and improve physical functioning demonstrates the importance of these issues for older people and the crucial role that physical activity plays,” said Associate Professor Tiedemann.

"Overall physical activity guidelines have shifted from exercise training to active living."
Ass Prof Melody Ding et al, The Lancet

In a commentary in The Lancet, Charles Perkins Centre researchers Associate Professor Melody Ding, Professor Adrian Bauman and international colleagues wrote that the new guidelines build on a much larger evidence base than the 2010 guidelines representing progress in physical activity research.

They also note advances in device-based measures, such as wearable activity trackers, and sophisticated analytical measures have been integral to identifying the amount of physical activity associated with health benefits.

“Such developments have led to the emphasis on doing any physical activity in any duration in the current guidelines. Overall physical activity guidelines have shifted from exercise training to active living,” the authors write.

Declaration: The authors declare no competing interests.

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