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WHO: Lack of exercise puts 1.4B adults at higher risk of heart disease

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A worldwide study found more than a quarter of the adult population -- 1.4 billion people -- are at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease because of insufficient exercise. Photo by Air Images/Shutterstock

By Allen Cone, UPI

More than a quarter of the world's adult population -- 1.4 billion people -- are at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease because of insufficient exercise, according to a new study.

Researchers at the World Health Organization for the first time studied global activity trends over time. Their findings were published Tuesday in The Lancet Global Health journal. Researchers found little progress in improving physical activity levels between 2001 and 2016 despite a WHO goal of a 10 percent reduction by 2025.

"Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health," lead author, Dr. Regina Guthold of the WHO said in a press release.

The recommended exercise is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.

In the study, 1.9 million adults aged 18 years and older from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries self-reported activity levels, including activity at work and at home, for transportation and during leisure time. The global figure for insufficient exercise was 27.5 percent in 2016 compared with an estimated 23.3 percent in 2010.

Fifty-five of 168 countries on average had insufficient exercise, with the lowest in Uganda and Mozambique at 6 percent each. The highest were 67 percent in Kuwait, 53 percent in American Samoa, 53 percent in Saudi Arabia and 52 percent in Iraq.

The study found people were less active by income -- 16 percent for low and 37 percent in high.

"Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women's access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable," co-author Dr. Fiona Bull from WHO said.

The difference in inactivity also was notable between the sexes -- 23.4 percent among men vs. 31.7 percent among women.

"The gender gap in physical activity, particularly in central Asia, Middle East and North Africa and South Asia reveals a health equity issue where women face more environmental, social and cultural barriers to participate in physical activity, particularly in their leisure time," Bull said.

Between 2001 and 2016, two regions had the highest increase in insufficient activity: Western countries from 31 percent to 37 percent as well as Latin America/Caribbean from 33 percent to 39 percent.

The study was released before the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on noncommunicable diseases and their risk factors, including physical inactivity, on Sept. 27 in New York.

"Although a recent NCD policy survey showed that almost three quarters of countries report having a policy or action plan to tackle physical inactivity, few have been implemented to have national impact," Bull said. "Countries will need to improve policy implementation to increase physical activity opportunities and encourage more people to be physically active."

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