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Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) impose a large burden on human health worldwide. Currently, more than 60% of all deaths worldwide stem from NCDs. Thankfully, physical activity – which includes exercises – significantly reduces the risk of NCDs.

NCDs are defined as diseases of long duration, generally slow progression and they are the major cause of adult mortality and morbidity worldwide.

This class of diseases were once termed “diseases of affluence” but are gradually gaining grounds in developing countries as well, making them a global burden. In 2008, roughly four out of five NCD deaths occurred in low- and middle- income countries (WHO, 2011), from just under 40% in 1990.


Four main diseases are generally considered to be dominant in NCD mortality and morbidity: cardiovascular diseases (including heart disease and stroke), diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases (including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma). These diseases have gained global impact in recent times and it’s very important to know their common risk factors and how to avoid them.

Sedentary lifestyles, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and increase in bodyweight are notable risk factors for NCDs. However, one major modifiable risk factor for NCDs as described by the WHO is Physical Inactivity.

Physical inactivity

Physical inactivity has been described as achieving less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. It is now identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality by WHO.

Physical inactivity levels are rising in many countries with major implications for the prevalence of NCDs and the general health of the population worldwide.

According to WHO, approximately 31% of adults over 15 years old were insufficiently active in 2008, with males being slightly more active than females. 

Physical inactivity increases the risk of coronary heart and cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, several cancers, osteoporosis/fractures and dementia, among others.

The probability of dying between ages 30 and 70 years from the four main NCDS (WHO, 2014)

Recommended levels of physical activity

Physical activity can take the form of a structured exercise programme or the accumulation of activities of daily living or leisure exercise.

WHO recommends that adults aged 18–64 years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate- intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.

Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate- intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

Benefits of physical activity

Physical activity clearly leads to increased physical fitness, exercise capacity, and risk reduction of a wide variety of pathological diseases and clinical disorders. These results in lower rates of morbidity, mortality, and increased life expectancy.

Even among the very old “not only continuing but also initiating” physical activity is associated with better survival and function.


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