Health and Development Through Physical Activity and Sport


Physical activity and healthy sports are essential for our health and well being. Appropriate physical activity and sports for all constitute one of the major components of a healthy lifestyle, along with healthy diet, tobacco free life and avoidance of other substances harmful to health. Available experience and scientific evidence show that the regular practice of appropriate physical activity and sports provides people, male and female, of all ages and conditions, including persons with disability, with wide range of physical, social and mental health benefits. It interacts positively with strategies to improve diet, discourage the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, helps reduce violence, enhances functional capacity and promotes social interaction and integration. Physical activity is for an individual; a strong means for prevention of diseases and for nations a cost-effective methods to improve public health across the population. 2. World Health in Transition

The world is witnessing a significant increase of the global burden of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. The increasing global epidemic of these diseases relates closely to respective changes in lifestyles mainly in tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet. The 2002 World Health Report on “Risks to Health - Promoting Healthy Living” highlights the significant contribution of these risk factors, including physical inactivity to the overall burden of NCD worldwide (see graph on risk factors worldwide, page 16) The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that mortality, morbidity and disability attributed to major NCDs, currently accounts for approximately 60% of all deaths and 43% of the global burden of disease. They are expected to raise to 73% of all deaths and 60% of the global burden of disease by 2020: Already today in the entire world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, chronic diseases are now the leading causes of death. Unhealthy diets, caloric excess, inactivity, obesity and associated chronic diseases are the greatest public health problem in most countries in the world. Overall physical inactivity is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths globally. Physical inactivity causes globally, about 10-16% of cases each of breast cancer, colon and rectal cancers and diabetes mellitus, and about 22% of ischaemic heart disease. The risk of getting a cardiovascular disease increases up to 1.5 times in people who do not follow minimum physical activity recommendations. Thus the world witnesses the burden of NCDs moving to poorer and poorer countries. Chronic NCDs are no more “diseases of affluence”. These diseases and their risk factors are moving to lower socioeconomic population groups. NCDs are therefore becoming the greatest contributors to inequity in health. The high burden of NCDs, especially in the developing world, means a double burden to health services. In addition to human suffering this means great costs and problems in terms of social development. The financial resources of developing countries are very limited to respond to the great number of NCDs by curative services. Prevention of these diseases through physical activity and healthy lifestyles, based on strong medical evidence, is the most cost-effective and sustainable way to tackle these problems and to support positive social development.

A combination of improper diet, insufficient physical activity and tobacco use are estimated to be the cause of up to 80% of premature coronary heart disease. In populations as diverse as in China, Finland and in the USA (several ethnic subgroups), studies have shown that even relatively moderate changes in lifestyle, especially by increasing physical activity and improving die, are sufficient to prevent the development of almost 60% of type II diabetes cases. It is likely that one-third of cancers can be prevented by maintaining a healthy diet, normal weight and physical activity throughout one’s life. The unfavourable trend continues. At the same time the level of overweight and obesity is rapidly growing world wide, in developed and developing countries also among young people. While lack of food is a major issue in some segments of society, data show that caloric excess, unbalanced diet, physical inactivity, obesity and the chronic diseases that they spawn are equally dangerous. The affected population with obesity has increased with epidemic proportions, with more than one billion adults worldwide overweight and at least 300 million clinically obese. Physical activity is in key position for weight control. In the United States, obesity causes 300 000 deaths annually, a number exceeded only by deaths related to tobacco. A higher rate of obesity is found in many countries of Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Some island nations of the Western Pacific have especially high rates of obesity. In China, an estimated 200 million people could become obese in the next ten years. It should also be emphasized that physical inactivity – like diet – does not lead to NCDs only through obesity. The health benefits of physical activity and a healthy diet take place through many other mechanisms besides influencing weight control. 3. Alarming Global Trend of Physical Inactivity World wide, more than 60% of adults do not engage in sufficient levels of physical activity which are beneficial to their health. Physical inactivity is more prevalent among women, older adults, individuals from low socio-economic groups, and the disabled. Physical activity also decreases with age during adolescence, and this decline continues throughout the adult years. In many countries, developed and developing, less than one-third of young people are sufficiently active to benefit their present and future health. Female adolescents are less active than male adolescents. Decreasing physical activity and physical education programmes in schools is an alarming trend worldwide. At the same time, high body mass Index (obesity/overweight) rates are increasing among young people as well as among middle-aged adults. This is related in part to lack of physical activity in leisure time, but is even more likely the result of people spending increasing amounts of time in sedentary behaviours such as watching television, using computers, and excessive use of “passive” modes of transport (cars, buses and motorcycles). Sedentariness is consuming a great deal of people’s time, and the health consequences are significant. 

 The Health sector can: · Provide nation-wide evidence-based advocacy on the health, social and economic benefits of physical activity · Develop action-oriented networks with other relevant sectors and stakeholders on physical activity · Promote an integrated, multi-sectoral public policy · Prepare health professionals, especially on physical activity counselling and programme development · Organise specific physical activity programmes in health services · Promote physical activity programmes in community and family · Secure seed investment and mobilise resources for physical activity · Participate in global actions to promote physical activity The Sport sector can: · Strengthen programmes for physical activity and sport for all, promoting the idea that sport is a human right for all individuals regardless of race, social class and sex · Make community use of local sport facilities easy and convenient · Allocate a proportion of sport funds to promoting physical activity · Teach about the benefits of physical activity in the sport sector training programmes · Advocate for physical activity and sport for all at professional, amateur and scholastic sporting events · Organise physical activity events in the community · Use of physical activity and sport to promote healthy lifestyles, reduce violence and foster social integration, development and peace. Policy-makers in Education and Culture should focus on: · Strengthening national policies related to physical education, physical activity and Sport for All in schools · Implementing sufficient physical education programmes by trained teachers in school curricula · Providing sufficient playgrounds and sports facilities on school premises · Making schools’ sport facilities available for public use · Increasing physical activity in cultural and leisure programmes and events The Media could help promote physical activity by: · Disseminating appealing messages and information about the benefits of physical activity · Organising regular programmes/campaigns to promote physical activity · Preparing journalists (e.g. sports, health or science journalists) to advocate for physical activity Urban Planning policy choices should include: · Planning for plenty of safe sidewalks and cycling paths · Inclusion of open spaces, parks and facilities for physical activity · Support to municipal or local authorities to implement these choices

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